It wasn’t pretty, but not in the way you might think.
The United States men’s basketball team rode a historic shooting night to a record-setting win as the beat the team from Nigeria by a count of 156-73. The 83 pont margin of victory was the largest in Olympic history, and that was only one of many records broken by the Americans. They also smashed the record for most points scored in a game and most 3-pointers made (26), a record they broke before the half. The Olympic records for field goals made (59) and shooting percentage (71%) also went down.
Leading the charge was former Orange(man) Carmelo Anthony. Helped by a torrid 10-12 performance from deep, Carmelo dropped 37 points on Nigeria…in 14 minutes of play. Though not really close to the all-time Olympic record (55 scored by Brazilian legend Oscar Schmidt in 1988), Anthony’s 37 is the US Olympic record (previously held by Stephon Marbury, who scored 31 against Spain in 2004).
It was an all-around stunning performance that should erase any remaining questions about whether or not the United States of
Carmelo Anthony America fields the best basketball team on the planet Earth.
Of course, smashing records is only half the story. Now the question becomes, did Team USA take it too far? In their quest to remind the world that American basketball is “back” in international play, did they humiliate an overmatched opponent unnecessarily? In trying to prove that the 2012 squad deserves to be mentioned along with the legendary ’92 squad (whose largest margin of victory was a mere 79 against Cuba in Olympic qualifying), did Coach K’s team cross the line?
The answer, of course, is “no”.
Let’s not make this out to be more than it is. Nigeria was the last team to qualify for the Olympics. They’re the last 16 seed. They’re just happy to be here. But unlike an NCAA 16 seed, these are grown men. Professionals. New Orleans Hornet Al-Farouq Aminu plays for Nigeria. Former Arizona State standout (and NBA washout) Ike Diagou plays for them too. Ten members of the Nigerian team played college basketball in the US. Despite what it might look like, this is not a JV team getting trounced by the varsity. This was simply a case of a Nigerian team that was woefully ill-equipped to handle the American onslaught.
Coach K put it best:
“We didn’t play LeBron [James] and Kobe [Bryant] in the second half, and with Carmelo shooting like that, we benched him. We didn’t take any fast breaks in the fourth quarter, and we played all zone. You have to take a shot every 24 seconds, and the shots we took happened to be hit.”
Then there’s Carmelo’s reaction:
“It was just one of them nights where as a unit we had it going. It could have been anybody out on the court playing against us.”
It was a sentiment echoed by the Nigerians themselves. Ike Diagou chimed in:
“When they shoot like this, I don’t know if there is any team that can beat them.”
It might seem like a bit of hyperbole, but it’s true. When you allow a team to shoot 71% from the field, chances are you’re going to lose. When you allow an opponent to hit 26 3’s at a 63% clip, chances are you’re going to lose. I don’t care who you are. And the Nigerians didn’t help themselves. The reason why everyone on Team USA, from Carmelo to Kobe to Kevin Love, was filling the nets for three was because the Nigerians left them WIDE FREAKING OPEN. Not a close out. Not a hand up. Nigeria just stood and watched while the Americans put on a clinic.
And Coach K has it exactly right. The rules of the game promote scoring. Unless people expect the Americans to turn the ball over every time down the court, they have to shoot the ball every 24 seconds. It’s up to Nigeria to make them miss. And, chances are, Team USA probably could have played he fourth quarter 3 on 5, and still won by 50. But what’s more humiliating, beating a team by 80 while playing the game out or barely trying at all and still cruising to a win? It’s a matter of respect. Carmelo himself said that Team USA respects Nigeria. Maybe it was just lip service, saying all the right things. But in sports, respect is both teams giving their best game and whatever happens, happens. Sometimes it’s an upset. Sometimes it’s a close contest.
And sometimes someone loses by 80.