U.S. men's basketball team routs China in opener
The American men's basketball team took their first step towards the top of the podium at the Beijing Games with a convincing 101-70 win over the host Chinese team Sunday at Olympic Basketball Gymnasium.
Guard Dwyane Wade, who has played the role of sixth man for the Americans, led the team in scoring with 19 points. Lebron James added 18 points and pulled down six rebounds, while swingman Kobe Bryant poured in 13 points in the win.
Forward Chris Bosh of the Toronto Raptors shot a perfect four of four from the field to finish the game with nine points.
Yao Ming — the Houston Rockets centre and one of China's few NBA players — was somewhat quiet in his first game, leading his team with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
"I've never felt an environment quite like this," Bryant said. "I've played in many big games, but the energy tonight was different.
"I think they knew that history was being made tonight," he added. "Obviously, it was a proud moment for their country as it is for ours. You could feel the electricity."
While the Americans finished a tepid 29 per cent from beyond the three-point arc, they were ruthless inside it.
The U.S. finished the game shooting 54 per cent from two-point range thanks largely to a dizzying array of dunks on putbacks and breakaways from Chinese turnovers.
While the result was never really in doubt, the highly anticipated game between the revamped Americans and the hosts from China had an electric atmosphere before a packed house.
Local fans undoubtedly were rooting for their home country, but the NBA is also immensely popular in China, where the league estimates that roughly 300 million people play basketball.
The Americans also received tremendous support during exhibition games in Macau and Shanghai just before the Olympic tournament.
Adding to the drama of the game, which anticipated a viewing audience of one billion people, was the presence of Chinese President Hu Jintao and U.S. President George Bush.
3-pointers keep China in it early
Shortly after the world leaders settled in, Yao led the Chinese team onto the floor to a huge ovation as they prepared for their pre-game warm-ups.
Not to be outdone, the Americans sprinted out of the tunnel and received an equally boisterous reception as they prepared for tip-off.
Yao, making his first appearance since foot surgery ended his NBA season in March, thrilled the crowd in the early going by hitting a rare three-point shot on China's first possession of the game.
His teammates followed suit and used their long-distance shooting to stay with the Americans. China drilled eight of their first 12 attempts from beyond the arc, including a three-ball from Sun Yue that tied the game at 29 with 6:09 remaining in the second quarter.
But the Americans began to force turnovers against China's smaller guards, which led to a series of easy breakaway layups and dunks. That contributed to the U.S. making 21 of their first 25 shots from two-point range, including a stunning one-handed finish from James off an alley-oop pass from Wade.
That cram built a 45-32 lead with under two minutes left in the half and the U.S. didn't take their foot off the pedal the rest of the way.
"It was our first game. We were very anxious," Wade said. "We missed shots that we normally would hit. But at the end of the day, you win by almost 30 points, you've got to take good things out of that."
The lead hit 20 when Wade drilled two free throws with 2:39 remaining in the third, while a three-pointer from marksman Michael Redd with seven minutes to play in the fourth saw the lead balloon to 84-50 and had the Bush family heading for the exits.
"Many things we learned from those guys," China coach Jonas Kazlauskas said. "So I think that it will be good for us."
The Americans will continue preliminary play against Angola on Tuesday, the same day China will face another basketball powerhouse in Spain.
With files from the Associated Press