Kevin Durant finished with 22 points as the US powered home after a sluggish start in a 98-71 win over France on Sunday on the opening day of the men’s Olympic basketball tournament.
The US team, loaded with NBA stars and heavy favorites to defend their title, struggled early and were leading by only one point at the end of the first quarter.
A 30-15 second quarter was the beginning of the end for France, who were led by the San Antonio guard Tony Parker and who had five other NBA players, the most in any squad apart from the US.
In the second half, the US produced enough alley-oop passes and dunks to draw oohs and aahs from the crowd and subdue France.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said.
Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired left eye, scored 10 as France fell to 0-5 in Olympic competition against the US. Ali Traore led France with 12 points.
Kevin Love scored 14 points, Kobe Bryant scored 10 and LeBron James added eight assists for the US.
The US’ next opponents in Group A are Tunisia, who lost 60-56 to Nigeria in the tournament opener.
Al-Farouq Aminu scored 15 points to help Nigeria hold off a second-half rally by Tunisia.
In Group B, Leandro Barbosa scored 16 points in Brazil’s 75-71 win over Australia.
Pau Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Spain past China 97-81, also in Group B.
Spain were silver medalists at the Beijing Games four years ago and they are the two-time European champions.
Yi Jianlian of the Washington Wizards had a double-double for China, scoring a game-high 30 points and pulling down 12 rebounds, but they had no answer to the depth of Spain, who had four players scoring in double digits.
Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder added 17 points for Spain.
With the US leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the second half with a three-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the US led 64-43 and put the game away.
Parker nearly missed the Olympics. He needed surgery after he was hit with broken glass during a nightclub fight in New York when he was caught in the crossfire.
He was able to break down the US defense early on, but once the favorites forced the ball from his hands, France had no one else to turn to.
The US led the boards 56-40, 27-10 in assists, but also collected 26 fouls, 18 of them in the first half.
After the game, the US players stopped to hug US first lady Michelle Obama, the “First Cheerleader.”
Nigeria, the last team to qualify for the 12-team tournament, limited Tunisia to 15 points in the first half and held a 16-point halftime lead. They led by as many as 19 and seemed in control of the game.
Tunisia rallied in the second half with a 10-2 run and closed the gap to two points late in the game, but Aminu, who plays for the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA, made of one of two free throws to seal the victory with 11 seconds remaining.
Amine Rzig scored 15 of his 18 points in the second half to lead Tunisia in the game that was an Olympic debut for both teams in men’s basketball.
Leandro Barbosa scored 16 points as Brazil held on to beat Australia.
Brazil had a one-point lead at halftime, but opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run. Then David Andersen got on a roll and helped Australia get back in the game.