July 17, 2012
President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama are featured on the "Kiss Cam". Photo: Reuters
Brazilian big man Nene threw down a one-handed jam, silencing a stunned crowd at Verizon Center. Perhaps expecting the US men's national basketball team to go untested on its way to the gold medal in London, fans waited anxiously during a break in action and their attention was directed to the Kiss Cam on the screen above the court.
President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, appeared on it. The president leaned and poked out his lips for a smooch, but the first lady resisted his advances and fans booed. When the United States returned from a timeout, it was even more assertive with its denial of Brazil, using suffocating defense to restore order and going on to handily defeat the visitors, 80-69.
With the largest collection of talent this arena has hosted since the 2001 NBA All-Star Game, there was plenty of excitement and anticipation, and three-time most valuable player LeBron James more than held up his end of the bargain as he scored a game-high 30 points and was named player of the game. Kevin Durant had 11 and Chris Paul scored 10.
After smashing the Dominican Republic by 54 points last week in Las Vegas, the Americans were tested early by a team that actually had qualified for the Olympics and will be in their same pool in London. Marcelo Huertas had 11 points, Leandro Barbosa had 10 and Nene had eight for Brazil, which is coached by Ruben Magnano, who led Argentina to a gold medal in the 2004 Olympics.
That loss helped inspire the next wave of superstar Olympic teams, but after claiming the gold medal in 2008, and winning all but one of those games by at least 20 points, the Americans are already aware that the quest to stay at the top will not be easy. But with James leading the way, the United States has to like its chances.
Playing their second of five exhibitions before beginning pool play on July 29 against France, the Americans started out sluggishly, missing easy layups and watching shots roll off the rim, and fell behind by 10 points to a Brazil team that featured four NBA current players in Nene, Barbosa, Anderson Varejao and Tiago Splitter. But former NBA guard Alex Garcia gave the United States the most problems early, scoring 12 of his team-high 14 points to give his team a 10-point lead after the first quarter.
Nene dunked to put Brazil ahead 29-21 and later blocked a shot by Kobe Bryant before the Americans responded with a vicious charge, scoring 12 unanswered points. Bryant stole the ball from Nene, leading to a driving dunk by James. Chris Paul had a steal, then Bryant tossed a beautiful lob to Durant for a dunk. Paul would add another steal and layup to give the United States a 33-29 lead before Guilherme Giovanni ended the run with a three-pointer.
James responded with a layup, a steal and a dunk as the Americans led 37-32 at the break. The United States outscored Brazil 20-5, forced 12 turnovers in the second period which resulted in 13 points, and limited Brazil to just nine field goal attempts.
Paul helped extend the lead to 13 in the third period. After getting into a heated exchange with Varejao after Varejao hit him a little harder than he would've liked, Paul knocked down a three-pointer, then took a pass from Tyson Chandler and got fouled by Barbosa as he made a layup.
Brazil would not back down, however, getting within six points in the fourth quarter before the Americans made another dramatic push to put the game out of reach. With the game essentially wrapped up, fans were again forced to turn their attention to the First Couple as they again came up on the Kiss Cam.
The second time, however, the president would not be denied. He turned to his wife, leaned in and the couple locked lips. Their daughter, Malia, applauded as fans cheered. Obama left with a section of the ground chanting, "Four more years!"
The United States left immediately after the game for Manchester, England, where the players will train for two days before playing Olympic host Britain on Thursday in an exhibition.