by Devon Jeffreys, July 29, 2012
The gold medal defense is off to a strong start for Deron Williams and Team USA.
The USA Senior Men's National Team recovered from a slow start in their Olympic opener on Sunday to outscore Team France 56-30 over the second and third quarters on their way to a 98-71 win over the Tony Parker led Frenchmen.
The win extended Team USA's Olympic winning streak to 10 games, including the bronze medal game in 2004 and all eight games during the 2008 gold medal run in Beijing, a team which D-Will was a part of. But Deron believes that the current Team USA is better than the 2008 version and their goal — their expectation — is gold or bust.
"We expect to win gold. Nobody comes to the Olympics to lose," Deron said. "A lot of us are older and better. Look at Lebron. He's better than he was in 2008. We've added a lot of great, young players too who are in their prime. I think we're better [than the Beijing team]. We're a lot more athletic and quicker than we were."
D-Will came off the bench to dish out six assists and grab four rebounds to go along with his three points in the winning effort. Deron's half-dozen dimes were second most on the team and set a new Olympic-high for No. 8. His previous Olympic-high was five against Germany in 2008. His four boards matched his Olympic-high, set twice during the 2008 Games in Beijing.
"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "I felt we had some good things going on offense, passing the ball felt great."
In addition to his assist and rebound work, Deron also helped Team USA to bottle up French playmaker Tony Parker. Parker got off to a hot start with six points and an assist in the first quarter, but Team USA's guards limited him to just four points on 2-of-7 shooting with no assists and four turnovers the rest of the way.
"[The plan was] to try to swarm him, surround him," D-Will said. "Keep bodies in front of him at all times."
While Parker and France were hot early, Team USA got a off to a rough start, struggling to find their rhythm in the early stages of the game. D-Will first entered with 5:44 remaining in the first half and Team USA clinging to an 11-7 lead.
He quickly handed out assists to Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, but like many of his teammates, Deron couldn't get into a shooting groove early. He missed all three shots he took in the first. In addition, his only rebound led to an offensive foul, his second foul of the quarter, forcing him to the bench with 1:14 to go in the first.
Team USA picked up eight fouls in the first, turned the ball over four times, shot just 29 percent (7-24) from the field and though they never fell behind, the Americans led by only one, 22-21, at the end of the first quarter.
But things picked up in the second as Team USA picked up the tempo and opened the quarter on a 10-0 run to take their first double-digit lead of the game. Foul trouble, which bothered the Americans for the entire first half, led to some French free throws that temporarily cut the lead back to single digits. But after a three from Kevin Durant with 4:32 left in the half gave them a 38-28 lead, Team USA led by at least 10 for the rest of the game.
D-Will returned to the floor with 6:59 remaining in the half and Team USA leading by 12, 33-21. He gave the team a boost late in the half with back-to-back assists, first finding Kevin Love for an inside for a layup to make it 45-31, then hitting Kevin Durant for a trey to make it 48-33. He also added a rebound in the final minutes and Team USA took a 16-point lead into the break.
The third quarter was more of the same for the Americans, as they outscored France 26-15 to put the game away. They opened the quarter on an 8-2 run to push the lead above 20 points for the first time. D-Will came in with 4:54 left in the third and the lead at 19. Just seven seconds later, he helped push that edge back over 20 with his third assist — a draw dropping alley-oop to LeBron James.
France pulled the deficit down to 16 in the closing minutes of the third, but Team USA put together another huge run at the end of the quarter, finishing the frame on a 10-0 burst to head into the fourth leading 78-51.
No. 8 got all three of his points during that quarter closing run. He started the surge with a floater in the lane that dropped with 2:50 to go to make it 70-51. Shortly thereafter, D-Will got a defensive board that led to a trip to the line for Kevin Love. Deron earned his own visit to the stripe moments later and knocked down 1-of-2 to make it a 21-point game.
The finish was academic from there, though Americans slowed down a bit in the fourth. Deron played several minutes in the final quarter and tallied one last assist — an alley-oop to Anthony Davis for 19-year-old's first Olympic points.
After the game, the members of Team USA congregated at the stands near their locker room to visit with First Lady Michelle Obama. Each member of the USA Basketball team hugged Obama and thanked her for her support before heading to the locker room.
"That was great," D-Will said. "We just saw her in D.C. and we knew that she was going to be here. It was definitely special to see her and I'm glad she could come out and support us."
- USA Men Fend Off France To Open Olympic Play With 98-71 Win (USA Basketball, July 29, 2012)
- Box Score: France vs. USA (USA Basketball, July 29, 2012)
- U.S. drains 3s to pull away (Associated Press, July 29, 2012)
- Hugs All Around After USA Rout (Wall Street Journal, July 29, 2012)
- Instant Analysis: USA 98, France 71 (ESPN.com, July 29, 2012)
- LeBron, Team USA pass first test (ESPN.com, July 29, 2012)
- James, U.S. finds gold-medal blueprint in 98-71 win over France (SI.com, July 29, 2012)
- USA confident of winning basketball gold medal (BBC Sport, July 27, 2012)
- Additional Quotes >> USA 98, France 71 (USA Basketball, July 29, 2012)
- Despite injury, all eyes will be on Parker (ESPN.com, July 28, 2012)