BARCELONA, Spain, July 24 (Reuters) - Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James can all rack up the points, but the ability to stop opponents scoring is what separates the U.S. Olympic team from the rest, according to point guard Chris Paul.
“I think the biggest thing is our defense. That’s what makes us such a tough team,” Paul told reporters after the U.S. beat Spain 100-78 in their final Olympic warm-up in a rematch of the gold medal game four years ago in Beijing.
“It isn’t because of all the offensive power we have, which is amazing. Our defense is what allows us to be so consistent.”
Spain used their size advantage to claim a nine-point lead in the first quarter, before the U.S. capitalised on some Anthony firepower and team defense to turn the tide.
James, called upon to defend much taller players, used his strength to push back against Pau Gasol and Serge Ibaka after they had helped Spain get off to a fast start.
”It’s nothing new for me,“ said James, NBA Finals MVP for the victorious Miami Heat. ”I do the same thing in Miami.
“I take the challenge against a lot of bigger guys. I just try to use my approach on the defensive end and try to help my team win. Whatever it takes,” added James, who cut loose at the other end in the fourth quarter with 14 points to finish with 25.
“We’re not the tallest team but that doesn’t bother us at all. We got a lot of guys that play above their height. It’s about determination.”
Paul said this fifth and last run out before the London Games start on Sunday was the most exciting, coming before a noisy, packed crowd in Barcelona’s Palau Sant Jordi arena.
”We knew that this was a big game,“ the Los Angeles Clippers point guard said. ”Coach (Mike Krzyzewski) said this is probably the biggest game in Barcelona since the 1992 Olympics.
“They got it going early. We’re playing in their backyard. But once we established our defense, it was a different game.”
The Americans forced seven turnovers in each of the second and third quarters as they turned a two-point deficit into a 14-point lead.
James added that now was the time to get serious.
“It was a good test for us tonight,” he said. “The exhibition games are over, the fun is over. We are looking forward to the real challenge of going to the Olympics.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)