DeMarcus Cousins scores 17 in USA’s opening rout of China

China’s Zou Yuchen (14) and the United States’ DeMarcus Cousins (12) fought for a rebound during a men’s basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016.
China’s Zou Yuchen (14) and the United States’ DeMarcus Cousins (12) fought for a rebound during a men’s basketball game at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. AP

Former University of Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins scored 17 points in the Americans’ 119-62 rout of China in the team’s opening game of group play at the Rio Olympics in Brazil on Saturday.

Cousins, the Sacramento Kings’ star center, was 6-for-8 from the field and 5-for-5 at the free-throw line. He had five rebounds, two assists and one steal.

Defense is what sets this team apart, Cousins said.

“That’s our identity,” he said. “That’s something that is preached on the daily. That’s something we’ve accepted as a team, and we are just trying to go out there and perform it. So, every night we come in, we know that is how we want to get our game started — defensively.”

Kevin Durant picked up right where he left off in the 2012 Olympics with 25 points. The new Golden State Warriors star scored 30 points four years ago in the gold-medal game, when the Americans held off Spain for the championship. Only he and Carmelo Anthony return from that team, but the new guys were plenty ready for their Olympic moment.

“We just wanted to send a statement to the rest of the world,” Anthony said. “Come out this first game and let everybody know that we’re focused, we’re locked in and we’re about business on this trip.”

LeBron James and Chris Paul passed on searching for more gold with Durant and Anthony, and plenty more top players who would have been on this roster also declined. But Coach Mike Krzyzewski said this squad has already bonded as much as any of the three U.S. teams he has led in the Olympics.

“Just because they aren’t here today, we’ve got another batch of guys that’s walking around on the streets saying they want to win a gold medal and we all have something in common,” Durant said. “It’s cool to have a fraternity of guys who have won a gold medal. It’s rare.”

Paul George added 15 points for the U.S., which is a heavy favorite to win a third straight gold and won’t change any opinions after this performance.

Tougher competition might come later, but it should be an easy start for the Americans. They play again Monday against Venezuela, another team they defeated easily in exhibition play.

Anthony finished with nine points and made by history becoming the first U.S. male to play basketball in four Olympics. He will become the first three-time gold medalist on the men’s side if the U.S. wins.

The 32-year-old veteran tied LeBron James and David Robinson by playing in his 24th game in the Olympics.

The Americans defeated the Chinese twice in exhibition play by scores of 106-57 and 107-57, and this one was even less competitive.

Former NBA lottery pick Yi Jianlian had 25 points to open his fourth Olympics. No other players were in double figures for the Asian champions.

One difference for China the third time around came in the paint.

“The previous two times that we played them, it wasn’t as physical, but tonight it was a lot more physical,” Cousins said.

Other highlights

Australia 87, France 66: Andrew Bogut scored 18 as Australia upset France in the opening men’s basketball game Saturday at the Rio Games.

France was considered by many as the second-best men’s team in the tournament behind the United States, but the NBA talent-filled squad underwhelmed on the heels of a disappointing 2012 Olympics.

Bogut shot 9-for-10 from the field and Patty Mills had 21 points. Bogut’s presence was a bit of a surprise after he suffered a hyperextended knee in the NBA Finals.

Tony Parker, one of 10 NBA players on the court — five on each team — scored a team-high 18 for France — 16 in the second quarter.

Next game

United States vs. Venezuela

6 p.m. Monday (NBC Sports)