BEIJING A few things just seemed out of place Sunday in Beijing.
A torrential rainstorm swamping the second day of competition at Beijing Summer Games. A Sunday night basketball game mixing a host of NBA superstar talent with halftime and time-out entertainment performances by two-man tandems dressed in ancient Chinese lion costumes and lines of young women dancing with hand fans. The standing room only Olympic Basketball Gymnasium crowd of 11,083 wildly cheering for both sides.
Oh, and a United States-China game that started off with a Yao Ming 3-pointer, followed by an early barrage of Chinese treys that kept host China even with the powerhouse Americans through the first 15 minutes of their Olympic opener.
But as the game's final seconds ticked away after midnight, the United States had restored some semblance of order and expectation with a 101-70 rout of China, overwhelming the hosts with nonstop athleticism and a stifling defense that camouflaged early offensive woes.
"I think the fans in China got a great show tonight," said Dwyane Wade, who led the U.S with 7-of-7 shooting and a game-high 19 points, showing no signs of last season's knee injury.
LeBron James added 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting, adding a series of soaring, crowd-pleasing dunks on offense and several high-wire-act blocks on defense. Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard completed the U.S. double-digit scorers with 13 apiece.
For the Americans, Sunday's game was to shake off opening-night jitters, learn how to make real-time adjustments against international foes and set a tone and tempo to dictate the game.
"We were a little wound up, a little sped up," said Deron Williams, the Utah Jazz guard who finished with nine points and four rebounds. "Once we settled down in the second quarter and especially in the second half, we were able to blow the game open, get some points in transition and finally start hitting some shots form he outside."
Carlos Boozer, Williams' teammate both on the Jazz and U.S. squad, agreed: "We're going to build off this game and continue to improve so that by the time we get to the final game, we're playing our best basketball."
Boozer finished with five points, three rebounds, an assist and a steal.
The Americans were at their best on defense, dominating the Chinese in steals (14-2) and then capitalizing on the other end with points off turnovers (a 12-2 margin) and scoring on the fast break (24-4).
"That's our main goal," Williams said. "Our defense needs to be there every night in case our offense isn't, and our offense wasn't really there in the first half."
China's idolized Yao Ming led the hosts with a double-double 13 points and 10 rebounds but the 7-foot-6 star was only 3-of-10 from the floor, with just one make inside the arc.
He opened the game with a trey from the top for the game's first basket 23 seconds in, a foreshadowing of China's first-half fireworks and early leads.
The U.S. also hinted of early domination a James flying jam, a Kobe long 3 and a Wade steal and dunk made it 16-11 at the seven-minute mark, and a Wade reverse dunk and a Howard score off a no-look LeBron pass upped the advantage to 24-19.
In both instances, China pulled back, the second time drawing even at 29-all midway in the second quarter.
The Chinese were aided by their 8-of-16 first-half 3-point shooting, while the visitors could managed a paltry 1-of-12 from 3-land that with a smaller arc for international competition.
The U.S. countered its long-range woes by going 20-of-24 on 2-pointers in the first half, with its defense-transition-break onslaught creating a 49-37 halftime lead and a slow-and-steady 31-point final margin.
Now 1-0 in Group B play, the U.S. plays Tuesday night against Angola, which was whipped Sunday 95-66 by Germany, with Chris Kaman scoring 24 and Dirk Nowitzki 23. The other Group B game had Rudy Fernandez scoring 16 points and the Gasol brothers helping Spain to an 81-66 victory over Greece.
E-mail: [email protected]