Irving helps US to ugly 80-45 win over Venezuela
CHICAGO (AP) Moments after his successful return to Chicago with the U.S. national team, Jimmy Butler pulled on a T-shirt with a picture of Brazilian soccer star Pele on the front.
Yup, it's almost time.
Kyrie Irving scored 13 points, DeMarcus Cousins powered a dominant performance in the paint, and the United States pulled away from Venezuela for an ugly 80-45 exhibition victory Friday night.
Coming off three straight flashy victories in Las Vegas and California, the United States used a strong fourth quarter to shoot 42.4 percent from the field in by far its worst offensive performance of its five-city tour in preparation for the Rio Olympics. But the Americans used their superior athleticism to limit Venezuela to 24 percent shooting and owned the interior with a 54-29 rebounding advantage.
''Quite frankly, I'm very pleased about tonight because you don't just want to just hit 17 3s and not work hard,'' U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski said. ''We had to work real hard tonight.''
Butler, a two-time All-Star with the Bulls, had four points and eight rebounds in 21 1/2 minutes in his first start with Team USA. He was cheered every time he was announced at the United Center.
''This is like home for me now,'' Butler said. ''I'm glad that I got to play here for USA in front of my hometown crowd. They've embraced me since Day 1. I hope they continue to do so. I want to win with the Bulls. I want to win with USA and bring a championship with the Bulls and a gold medal here.''
Butler had one of the few electric plays for the U.S. when he ran out on the break and dunked Kyle Lowry's tip pass in the fourth quarter. DeAndre Jordan also had a vicious dunk off a lob from Kevin Durant, and DeMar DeRozan drew chants of ''USA! USA!'' with a windmill jam in the final minutes.
Klay Thompson also scored 13 points, and Cousins finished with seven points and 12 rebounds. Durant had nine points of 3-of-9 shooting for the U.S., which plays one more exhibition on Monday against Nigeria before departing for Brazil.
''We just kept fighting defensively, and we were great (in that area),'' Durant said. ''And in the second half, we made some shots.''
John Cox scored 14 points for Venezuela, which will play the U.S. again on Aug. 8 in the Olympics. Nestor Colmenares pulled down 10 rebounds.
''Their defense is so good because they can switch everything because of their length and athleticism,'' Cox said. ''So there's not really another team in the Olympics that can do that.''
Irving and company were greeted with a round of hearty cheers when they came out for pregame warmups. Fans flocked to the side of the court where the Americans had their layup line, and Anthony and Durant posed for pictures with a couple of eager boys.
Before Butler's introduction drew the most applause of the night, former Chicago coach Tom Thibodeau received a thunderous ovation when he was announced with the U.S. coaching staff. Thibodeau took a year off after he was fired by the Bulls in May 2015, and then was hired as Minnesota's coach and president of basketball operations in April.
''He's the best as far as preparation and team player and whatever, and the fans appreciate it,'' said Krzyzewski, a Chicago native. ''It was great. I love the fact that my town gave a guy who gave them his heart and soul for the number of years he's been here, and acknowledged that. That's a great, great thing.''
The star power also extended to the sideline near the U.S. bench, where former Olympians Scottie Pippen and Dwyane Wade watched the action attentively. Wade was joined by his wife, actress Gabriel Union, hours after he held his introductory press conference for his new contract with his hometown Bulls.
Pippen played on the 1992 Dream Team that rolled to gold in Barcelona, and also helped the U.S. win gold in 1996. Wade was on the Americans' gold medal-winning teams at each of the last two Olympics.
Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap