ISTANBUL // Kevin Durant scored 14 points and sparked the United States during a dominant second-quarter stretch in a 106-78 victory over Croatia yesterday in the opening round of the world basketball championship. Eric Gordon made four three-pointers and had 16 points to lead the Americans, who turned a close game into a blowout by limiting the Croatians to six points in the second quarter. Chauncey Billups finished with 12 points.
It was an impressive start for a US team that came to Turkey without any players who helped them win the gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. Instead of those superstars, the Americans are left with a young, undersized team led by Durant, the NBA's leading scorer. Also yesterday, Australia and Greece won unexpectedly close games. Australia came from behind for a 76-75 victory over Jordan, and Greece pulled away from pesky China for a 89-81 victory.
For the US team, Durant scored five straight points to kick off the decisive burst early in the second quarter and added eight rebounds in just 21 minutes. All 12 players scored for the Americans, as the coach, Mike Krzyzewski, was able to give his starters plenty of rest. The US will play their three toughest games in Group B in the first three days of the tournament. In other games: Centre Alex Maric had 23 points and nine rebounds for Australia, which did not take the lead against Jordan until Maric's rebound basket made it 56-55 at the end of the third quarter. "We were very lucky to escape with a win," said Brett Brown, the Australia coach. "We recognise we were fortunate to claw back and snatch a win."
√ Nikolaos Zisis and Ioannis Bourousis both scored 21 points to lead Greece past China. China, playing without Yao Ming, the Houston Rockets centre who is recovering from surgery on his left foot, got within two points late in the game before Greece retook control. Yi Jianlian, of the Washington Wizards, had 26 points for China. "I feel bad, it was so close," said Sun Yue, the China guard, who scored 15 points.
√ Sergey Monya scored 16 points to lead a balanced attack as Russia beat Puerto Rico 75-66. Timofey Mozgov, a seven-foot centre who signed with the New York Knicks this off-season, and Sasha Kaun both added 13 points for Russia. Anton Ponkrashov had 10 points and 11 assists. Jose Juan Barea of the Dallas Mavericks scored 25 points for Puerto Rico. √ Fadi el Khatib scored 31 points and Rony Fahed added 17 as Lebanon beat Canada 81-71. In the third quarter, the six-foot-six inch el Khatib scored 16 points, making all five field goal attempts and three free throw attempts.
√ Aleksandar Rasic scored 22 points as Serbia routed Angola 94-44 despite missing two of their top players. Serbia easily dominated the boards, out-rebounding the African champions 49-25. Serbia's centre Nenad Krstic has been suspended for three games and Milos Teodosic, a guard, for two for their roles in a brawl against Greece in a warm-up tournament earlier this month. √ Linas Kleiza scored 27 points and Paulius Jankunas added 15 to lead Lithuania past New Zealand 92-79. Lithuania used a 10-0 second quarter run to take control.
√ Goran Dragic had 16 points and eight assists as Slovenia beat Tunisia 80-56. Tunisia had only one player in double figures in its world championship debut, Radhouane Slimane with 11. * Associated Press