LONDON — Kevin Durant finished with 22 points as the United States powered home after a sluggish start in a 98-71 win over France on Sunday on the opening day of the men’s Olympic basketball tournament.
The U.S. team, loaded with NBA stars and a heavy favorite to defend its title, struggled early and was leading by only one point at the end of the first quarter.
A 30-15 second quarter was the beginning of the end for France, which is led by the San Antonio guard Tony Parker and has five other NBA players, the most in any squad apart from the United States.
In the second half, the Americans produced enough alley-oop passes and dunks to draw oohs and aahs from the crowd and subdue the French.
“They’re going to be very, very tough to beat,” Parker said.
Parker, playing with goggles to protect a surgically repaired left eye, scored 10 as France fell to 0-5 in Olympic competition against the United States. Ali Traore led France with 12 points.
Kevin Love scored 14 points, Kobe Bryant scored 10 and LeBron James added eight assists for the Americans.
The Americans’ next opponent in Group A is Tunisia, which lost 60-56 to Nigeria in the tournament opener.
Al-Farouq Aminu scored 15 points to help Nigeria hold off a second-half rally by Tunisia.
In Group B, Leandro Barbosa scored 16 points in Brazil’s 75-71 win over Australia.
Pau Gasol had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead Spain past China 97-81, also in Group B. Spain was silver medalist at the Beijing Games four years ago and is the two-time European champion.
Yi Jianlian of the Washington Wizards had a double-double for China, scoring a game-high 30 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
But China had no answer to the depth of Spain, which had four players scoring in double digits.
Serge Ibaka of the Oklahoma City Thunder added 17 points for Spain.
With the U.S. leading 52-36 at halftime, Durant opened the second half with a 3-pointer, Bryant dropped one from long range and after James dunked an alley-oop pass from Deron Williams, the Americans led 64-43 and put the game away.
Parker nearly missed the Olympics. He needed surgery after he was hit with broken glass during a nightclub fight in New York recently when he was caught in crossfire.
He was able to break down the American defense early on, but once the Americans forced the ball from his hands, the French had no one else to turn to.
The Americans led the boards 56-40, 27-10 in assists, but also collected 26 fouls, 18 of them in the first half.
After the game, the U.S. players stopped to hug First Lady Michelle Obama, the First Cheerleader.
Nigeria, the last team to qualify for the 12-team tournament, limited Tunisia to 15 points in the first half and held a 16-point halftime lead. They led by as many as 19 and seemed in control of the game.
Tunisia rallied in the second half with a 10-2 run and closed the gap to two points late in the game.
But Aminu, who plays for the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets, made of one of two free throws to seal the victory with 11 seconds remaining.
Amine Rzig scored 15 of his 18 points in the second-half to lead Tunisia in the game that was the Olympic debut for both teams in men’s basketball.
Leandro Barbosa scored 16 points as Brazil held on to beat Australia.
Brazil had a one-point lead at halftime, but opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run. Then David Andersen got on a roll and helped Australia get back in the game.
Anderson scored all of his 14 points in the second half and Australia battled back to within two — 73-71.
Brazil let the clock wind down and Australia was called for kick ball — which reset the shot clock. The Australians were then forced to foul Brazil captain Marcelinho Huertas, who hit two free throws to seal the victory with five seconds left.
Patty Mills, re-signed by the San Antonio Spurs earlier this month, finished with a game-high 20 points for Australia.