-- RIO DE JANEIRO -- Some at-the-buzzer instant analysis from press row at the Carioca Arena 1 after Team USA moved to 2-0 in Group A play with Monday night's 113-69 rout of Venezuela:
How It Happened: For all the deserved raves going around about its defensive prowess, Team USA tends to take at least half a quarter to get untracked offensively, even against what clearly ranks as inferior opposition.
On this night, though, it took the Americans a full quarter to get going.
With Venezuela showing the same determination to slow the game down by any means necessary like it displayed in Chicago when the teams met July 29 - while, of course, scrapping as hard as it can -- Team USA unexpectedly found itself locked in an 18-18 tie after a period ... with big men DeMarcus Cousins and DeAndre Jordan both saddled with two fouls each.
Cause for concern is too strong a statement to apply to any area of the Yanks' game, since an intensity letdown at the start appeared to be as big a culprit as anything, but the ability of burly Venezuela center Gregory Echenique to consistently draw contact inside did make you wonder if more serious problems loom Wednesday night against the Australia duo of Andrew Bogut and Aron Baynes.
You have to believe Team USA will be much sharper from a focus perspective in that one, coming off this (at times) sluggish performance and knowing that Australia -- after beating France and Serbia by a combined 36 points -- has emerged as a legit medal threat here. But this was a frustrating night for Cousins especially; he picked up fouls No. 3 and No. 4 almost immediately in the second and third quarters and was clearly exasperated by the whistles.
Carmelo Anthony's 10-point second quarter ultimately helped Team USA restore order, while also enabling Anthony to pass Michael Jordan as the third-leading scorer in U.S. Olympic history. Yet more focus from the jump was expected from the group so early in the tournament.
Especially since the Americans already know what gritty Venezuela is all about.
"We got to get over these slow starts," Team USA star Kevin Durant had said going into this game after a sluggish five-plus minutes against China. "I think everybody is just so anxious and excited to play. Hopefully after a couple of games, those jitters just go away and we just play a great game of basketball from start to finish."
Paul George scored a team-high 20 points for Team USA, followed by Jimmy Butler (17) Durant (16), Anthony (14) and DeAndre Jordan (14). Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski would later single out Butler and Jordan as key sparks who triggered the Americans' eventual surge to a comfortable final margin.
The Streak: That's now 70 wins in a row and counting for Krzyzewski; 18 consecutive victories in Olympic play, 19 in FIBA World Cup tournaments, 10 in Olympic qualifiers and another 23 wins in exhibition games. The Americans previously tasted defeat in the semifinals of the 2006 FIBA World Championship against Greece and launched this streak on Sept. 2, 2006, with a 96-81 victory over Argentina in the bronze-medal game in Japan.
Play Of The Game: Give the Venezuelans serious amounts of respect for its pluck.
Give 'em this section of prized real estate, too, on a night they hung in for longer than anyone could have expected.
The shot-making of John Cox -- cousin of Kobe Bryant -- is the backbone of this team, which had to make you smile if you were still watching late in the third quarter.
Cox drained a long 3-pointer from Stephen Curry range straight on, then followed it up with a nifty runner in the lane, to briefly lower the Venezuela deficit back into the teens (66-47) before the Yanks inevitably pulled away. You can safely assume Bryant was indeed still tuned in given what he tweeted about his 35-year-old relative.
Cox finished with 19 points and Echenique, on top of all those fouls he drew, added 18 for Venezuela.
(Honorable mention in this category: Cousins got some some big -- and funny -- consolation hugs from Anthony and Jordan on the bench after he fouled out with just more than three minutes to go. And, yes, it was indeed Echenique who drew Cousins' fifth foul.)
Numbers Game: The United States is now 5-0 all time against Venezuela in official tournament play, with an average margin of victory of 37 points.
A breakdown of those matchups:
One of the problems for Team USA in a recent 80-45 exhibition victory over Venezuela in Chicago was its 4-for-25 shooting from 3-point range.
The shooting from deep was a little better when it counted: Team USA went 9-for-22 on 3s Monday night.
With Brooklyn's Greivis Vasquez (foot) forced to pull out of the Olympics due to injury, Venezuela joins China as one of just two teams at these Games with no current NBA player on the roster.
What's Next: Team USA will hold a formal practice Tuesday for just the third time since it arrived in Brazil, then moves on to Wednesday night's date with Australia in a showdown of Group A's two 2-0 unbeatens.
Lots more on the Aussies' mindset can be found here, but this much we already know: It'll be the toughest test of the summer so far for the Americans after two games at these Olympics and five exhibitions that featured only one opponent out of seven -- Argentina -- that can be considered any sort of threat to medal here in Rio.
Defense, as you've surely gleaned by now, is Team USA's calling card, but the Boomers feel the same way about their game.
"We pride ourselves on our D," Australia assistant coach Luc Longley said Monday. "So we'll get a good measure of how good our defense is or isn't in a couple days."