ISTANBUL — Kevin Durant
scored 14 points and got the United States started on a dominant
second-quarter stretch in a 106-78 victory over Croatia on Saturday in
its opening game at the world championship.
Eric Gordon made four 3-pointers
and had 16 points to lead the Americans, who turned a close game into a
blowout by limiting the Croatians to six points in the second quarter.
Chauncey Billups finished with 12 points.
It was an impressive start for a
U.S. team that came to Turkey without any players who helped them win
the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Instead of those superstars, the
Americans are left with a young, undersized team that features Durant,
the NBA's leading scorer, as its centerpiece.
He scored five straight points to
kick off the decisive burst early in the second quarter and added eight
rebounds in just 21 minutes.
All 12 players scored for the
Americans, as coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to give his starters plenty
of rest with the U.S. playing its three toughest Group B games in the
first three days of the tournament.
Though USA Basketball officials
hoped to have a LeBron James or Kobe Bryant — whose picture hangs in a
large poster just inside the entrance — they couldn't have asked for
much more than what they saw from the replacements Saturday.
And it's this group, which has
been called the U.S. "B" team that can earn an automatic berth into the
2012 Olympics by winning the worlds – which has rarely been easy for the
As the Americans took the court
for warmups, the overhead scoreboard was playing clips of recent U.S.
failures at the worlds from 2002 and 2006. They have won the event just
three times, none since 1994.
But even without its biggest names, this U.S. team might be good enough if it plays the way it did in the second quarter.
Bojan Bogdanovic scored 17
points and Marko Popovic added 16 for Croatia, which once was among the
world's best teams but hadn't played in the world championship since
winning a bronze medal in 1994.
The Croatians hung tough for a quarter but couldn't overcome their awful perimeter shooting in the second period.
The Americans scored the first
seven points of the game, but Croatia settled down and executed its
offense well in the halfcourt to get open looks under the basket. The
Croatians grabbed a 19-18 lead on Marko Banic's follow shot with 1:42
left in the first quarter and trailed just 22-20 heading to the second.
But the U.S. quickly blew it
open in the second. Durant's three-point play started a 12-0 run that
pushed the lead to 14, and consecutive 3-pointers by Gordon and another
by Rudy Gay extended it to 47-26 with 1:48 to go in the half.
Croatia was just 3 of 17 from the field in the period and missed 12 of its 13 3-point attempts in the half.
The U.S. faces Slovenia on Sunday followed by a game against Brazil on Monday.