SAPPORO, Japan -- Jerry Colangelo graded it a "B." Nobody on the team gave it anything worse than a C-plus. LeBron James was the most generous, saying it might have been as good as a B-plus.
Team USA's first game of the World Championship wasn't really as close as the final score would seem to indicate. Yes, it stayed tight through almost the entire first half, but the U.S. team seized control early in the third quarter and put it on cruise control the rest of the way to defeat Puerto Rico 111-100 Saturday afternoon.
"I don't give grades. The final score is what we're graded on," coach Mike Krzyzewski told me as he stepped into an elevator following his postgame press conference. He didn't appear to be in the greatest of moods, but he was certainly much happier than he was midway through the first quarter when he cursed and screamed at his team, "Let's quit [messing] around! Let's go!"
Coach K's curse was audible throughout the nearly silent arena, coming after Team USA drew a technical foul when Carmelo Anthony -- who wasn't even in the game at the time but was standing next to the U.S. bench -- inbounded the ball. The technical foul allowed Puerto Rico to tie the game at 17, but the U.S. dodged a bullet when the officials ruled it a team technical. Had they charged it to Anthony, it would have counted as his third personal. Instead, he was able to play in the second quarter, when Team USA actually trailed for a short time before opening a 57-51 halftime lead.
Anthony finished with a team-high 21 points for the U.S., which plays China on Sunday and will have to contend with a serious height difference. China has three 7-footers in Yao Ming, Wang Zhi-Zhi and Yi Jianglian, whereas Team USA has only one, Brad Miller, who did not even get off the bench Saturday.
Team USA was at its best when its defense forced turnovers and allowed it to get out into the open court, but the team looked tentative against the zone until figuring out in the second half that it could create open 3-point looks from the corners with proper ball movement.
"It was kind of a feeling-out game," Colangelo said. "Even the crowd, or lack of noise in the building, when we had some runs it was kind of hard to build on that because there just wasn't any energy. You have to be able to create your own energy. So I just kind of look at it as we played OK, could have played a lot better, but it was enough to win and that's really all that matters right now. It wasn't our best."
The U.S. players were upset with their defense, which was intense at times but porous at others. Carlos Arroyo was able to create open shots for himself off his dribble penetration, but Puerto Rico was never able to put together any kind of a sustained run.
And when Team USA needed to make plays, it did.
Joe Johnson came off the bench (the starters in the first half were Anthony, Elton Brand, Chris Paul, Antawn Jamison and James, but in the second half Dwight Howard and Dwyane Wade replaced Jamison and Brand) late in the first half to hit two 3-pointers that finally gave the U.S. team some breathing room, then hit another midway through the third quarter for an 11-point lead after Puerto Rico had pulled to 71-63.
A blocked shot by Shane Battier led to a wide-open 3 from Kirk Hinrich in the corner to make it 103-88 after Puerto Rico again pulled within 12, and Battier's tip-in and Hinrich's two foul shots with 2:12 left helped Team USA maintain a comfortable margin.
Battier, who said the game had the feel of an opening-round NCAA Tournament game, chose "incomplete" as his grade.
"We have to adjust," he said. "This whole trip is about doing things outside your comfort zone. We're not in NBA arenas, we don't have NBA officials, we're not eating American food, not sleeping in American beds. You know what? Deal with it. We're here. Let's do the best we can with our surroundings."
"Grade? I'd give it a B-minus or C-plus. We didn't play defense very well," Brand told Insider.
"I'd give us a B-minus. I don't think we came out in the first five minutes with a lot of energy," Howard said.
"A 'B,' a B-plus maybe," James said. "We gave up too many points, which is not what we want to do. We can't win ballgames every night like that, because there may be a night when we might not be able to score 100 points, and then it's a problem."
"About a C-plus," Wade said. "I think we went for too many steals, and they capitalized on a lot of our missed opportunities, but we didn't let any early lead by them go the wrong way."
So we still await Team USA's "A" game, which they'll need later on in the tournament. Their "B" game was good enough against Puerto Rico, though it probably didn't strike any fear into the opposing teams spread around Japan who tuned in to take a peek at the latest version of Team USA.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA and international basketball for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Chris, click here.