SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) -Slovenia rolled past Argentina 118-100 in their Olympic debut on Monday as Luka Doncic scored 48 points to come close to breaking the single-game scoring record in the men’s basketball tournament.
In the second men’s game on Monday, Spain spoiled Japan’s return to the Olympics for the first time in 45 years by defeating the hosts 88-77.
Argentina may have the Olympic pedigree, with a gold and a bronze medal to their name, but newcomers Slovenia showed no hesitation out of the gate, taking an early lead on four straight three-pointers including three by Doncic.
By halftime Doncic, on the Dallas Mavericks roster in the NBA, had 31 points, accounting for half of his team’s scoring as they led 62-42. He finished on 18 for 29 shooting, including six three-pointers, and added 11 rebounds and five assists.
“We had a plan and the players executed this plan, especially offensively we were, what can I say, amazing. We scored 118 points,” said Slovenia head coach Aleksander Sekulic.
“This guy here was playing a hell of a game. It’s easier then,” he said, referring to Doncic sitting next to him at the post-game news conference.
Doncic said he was happy just to get a first Olympics win for his country’s basketball team.
“It’s our first Olympics, we win the first game and I think it’s very special for everyone in Slovenia,” Doncic said.
Luis Scola, playing in his fifth Olympics for Argentina, led his team with 23 points.
Brazil’s Oscar Schmidt holds the single-game record with 55 points set in a 1988 game against Spain. Doncic’s 48 points tied him for second place alongside Australia’s Eddie Palubinskas in 1976.
RETURN TO OLYMPIC BASKETBALL
The Japanese men were playing Olympic basketball for the first time since 1976, having automatically qualified as the host nation, and hoping for a lift from overseas-based players like Rui Hachimura of the NBA’s Washington Wizards.
Japan initially kept things close. They were tied midway through the second quarter until the Spaniards went on a 19-0 run and held Japan scoreless for more than four minutes, with Spain going into halftime leading 48-28.
The Japanese cut the lead to nine late in the fourth quarter but Spain’s roster of veterans including Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol found a response to each run by Japan.
Spain had four scorers in double digits led by Rubio with 20 points, and scored 48 points in the paint to just 24 for Japan.
“I think we did a pretty good job for the most part of the game. When we were up 20 we kind of relaxed and that can’t happen,” Rubio said.
“We have to be happy about things that we did, but we got to improve, we got to get better.”
Hachimura, who scored 20 points including four three-pointers, noted his team’s lack of experience at the Olympic level and the need to get more games under their belt.
“This is our first game in the Olympics so it’s a different experience. Spain has been in the Olympics for a long time and they play at a high level,” Hachimura said.
“We’re a young team. We just got to play these games. Especially in the third quarter, we had a great stretch but we just have to play (like that) from the beginning.”
Slovenia will take on hosts Japan on Thursday and Argentina face Spain.
(Reporting by Chris Gallagher; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell, Ed Osmond and Hugh Lawson)