ISTANBUL — An arena that was nearly covered in Slovenian green grew louder with every U.S. 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 halftime 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 on Sunday in an opening-round game.
“They did a great job of fighting, getting stops and making plays, and we know that we can’t go out here and blow every team out,” Durant said. “We had to make this a grind game and we did that, and a good job of keeping our composure.”
Rudy Gay finished with 16 points for the Americans (2-0), while Russell Westbrook and Andre Iguodala each had 11. Durant shot 8 of 13 before sitting out the fourth quarter and Love always seemed to be around the ball — even when a Slovenian player tried holding his arm so he couldn’t get it.
Bostjan Nachbar scored 13 points for Slovenia (1-1), which had an enormous edge in the stands but not enough to match the Americans on the court.
“I think we tried our best. We made Team USA play their best basketball, which was very important,” said Nachbar, who once played with the New Jersey Nets. “I think across 40 minutes you could see which team was better, I don’t think there was a question about it, but for us, especially for young players, it was a big confidence booster.”
Slovenian fans, many dressed in green shirts, lined the streets outside the arena some 90 minutes before tipoff. They filled large areas throughout the building, and stood and roared when the Slovenians came out for pregame warmups.
There wasn’t 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 onto 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. Nachbar answered with a basket, but the Americans ran off 10 straight points, with Durant nailing a 3-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 didn’t make a field goal for the first 6½ minutes of the period, allowing Slovenia to crawl within 28-23 on Sani Becirovic’s free throws with 3:36 to go. Westbrook snapped the U.S. out of that drought with a basket, then fed Love for another to start an 8-0 spurt that made it 36-23.
Love later flexed his muscle for another basket, grabbing an offensive rebound with one arm while Uros Slokar was holding the other, and putting it back in while being fouled.
“I was actually just trying to put it right over the rim,” Love said. “It happened to go off glass and it’s good to have a little bit of luck on your side.”
Love is earning more of a role with the team after his minutes were limited by injuries during much of training camp.
“I know if I’m going to stay in the game and play minutes, I have to get out there and get every rebound and that’s kind of what Coach [Mike Krzyzewski] tells me,” Love said.
The Americans led by 14 points at halftime before putting it away midway through the third quarter. Lamar Odom and Derrick Rose made consecutive 3-pointers, Iguodala had a steal and dunk, and Durant added a basket and 3-pointer for a 59-32 bulge with 4½ minutes remaining.
The Slovenians got little from Phoenix Suns guard Goran Dragic, who had 16 points in their opening victory over Tunisia. He finished with seven points on 2-of-8 shooting. Gasper Vidmar scored 10.
The Americans face Brazil on Monday night, then have an off day before their final two games in group play.
“No relax, never relax until the tournament’s over,” Odom said. “Then we have two or three weeks until training camp. Then we’ll relax.”
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