LONDON — Even the world’s top team needs a kick from its bench every once in a while.
The U.S. men’s basketball team came out slowly, if not a little embarrassingly, resulting in all five starters sitting on the bench Tuesday to start the third quarter against Tunisia.
The reserves took it from there, pushing the U.S. to a 110-63 victory in a preliminary game of the London Olympics.
Worth mentioning: Oddsmaker Bovada had the U.S. installed as a 54-point favorite, but the halftime lead was a limp 46-33.
Also worth mentioning: Tunisia actually led, 15-12, on a run that included a coast-to-coast dunk by Makram Ben Romdhane at the Olympic Park basketball arena.
Tunisia? Out-hustling the latest version of the Dream Team?
Tunisia had one player taller than 6 feet 9, was the only team in the tournament without an NBA player, and was appearing in its second Olympic basketball game ever.
U.S. Coach Mike Krzyzewski downplayed his lineup change, saying he was simply aiming to parcel minutes evenly among his players because, “This isn’t a sprint. It’s a longer race.”
It surprised some players, though.
“You never know what Coach K will do,” Carmelo Anthony said. “He held us responsible, he held us accountable for what we were doing out there. The game was kind of slow. We figured it out.”
Anthony, a reserve, had 16 points, as did Kevin Love.
The starters weren’t dismayed at all. LeBron James did a little dance after Andre Iguodala scored on a fastbreak. Kobe Bryant stood and clapped after Anthony made a three-point shot for a 58-35 lead.
Bryant did not play in the second half after scoring four points on two-for-five shooting. Starting center Tyson Chandler also didn’t play after halftime.
“Once we got the big lead, there was no reason to put me in,” Bryant said. “Let the young guys hoop.”
The reserves put the game out of hand with a 21-3 run to start the third quarter. Russell Westbrook had 11 points and Oklahoma City teammate James Harden had 10 in reserve roles.
Krzyzewski also sat all five starters late in the first quarter after Tunisia took its surprising lead. The U.S went on a 14-0 run with Westbrook, Iguodala, Anthony, Love and Deron Williams.
Ben Romdhane had 22 points and 11 rebounds for Tunisia.
The U.S. plays its third of five preliminary games Thursday against Nigeria.