ISTANBUL // An arena that was nearly covered in Slovenian green grew louder with every US miss. Playing a rare early game, the United States had stalled after a quick start, and a double-digit lead was down to five as half-time approached. Then, every time the Americans needed them, Kevin Durant seemed to get on the scoreboard and Kevin Love was on the backboard.
Durant scored 22 points, Love added 10 points and 11 rebounds in a gritty 13 minutes off the bench, and the Americans beat Slovenia 99-77 yesterday in an opening-round FIBA World Championship game. Slovenian fans, many dressed in green shirts, lined the streets outside the arena some 90 minutes before tip off. They filled large areas throughout the building, and stood and roared when the Slovenians came out for pre-game warm ups. There was not as much for them to cheer about once the game started.
"We're used to that playing in Spain and Greece, so it was cool," Durant said. "I think we had to do a better job of holding on to the game and keeping them quiet by making plays, and I think we did that." Durant ripped the ball away on Slovenia's opening possession and raced in for a dunk about 20 seconds into the game. Bostjan Nachbar answered with a basket, but the Americans ran off 10 straight points, with Durant nailing a three-pointer before throwing down another dunk for a 12-2 lead. The Americans made eight of their first 11 shots from the field and led 23-11 after one quarter, then suddenly went cold in the second.
They did not make a field goal for the first six-and-a-half minutes of the period, allowing Slovenia to crawl within 28-23 on Sani Becirovic's free throws with 3:36 to go before the US got back into their stride.
* Associated Press