LONDON — The last group in England with this many records was The Beatles.
The United States men’s Olympic basketball team beat Nigeria 156-73 Thursday night, an epic blowout that answered the Americans’ detractors and sent a clear message to let them be.
After two opening routs that provoked criticism of their slow starts and outside shooting, Team USA rewrote the record books.
They led by 26 in the first quarter, had an Olympic-record 78 points in the first half and Carmelo Anthony scored 37 points, including 10 of 12 3-pointers, to break the USA single-game scoring record in less than three quarters.
“Our guys just couldn’t miss,” USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said.
Incredibly, they eclipsed the 100-point mark with five minutes still left in the third quarter.
“When we get hot, it’s a big problem,” Kobe Bryant said. “So you have all these guys on one team and then all get hot on the same night, it’s tough.”
They broke the Olympic record for most points in a game with 4:37 still to play, and set USA records for 3-pointers (26), field goals (59) and field-goal accuracy (71 percent).
When Andre Iguodala hit a 3-pointer with 4:37 left, the Americans had surpassed the previous Olympic record of 138 points set by Brazil against Egypt in 1988.
When the record was announced to the mesmerized crowd, all the players seated on the Team USA bench got up and walked single file past Krzyzewski, slapping hands with him and his staff.
Gentlemen, take a bow.
“It was just one of them nights where as a unit we had it going,” Anthony said. “It could have been anybody out on the court playing against us.”
The Americans even one-upped the 1992 Dream Team. The 83-point margin of victory was the largest in U.S. national team history, eclipsing the 79-point spread when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Co. beat Cuba 136-57 in their first game.
The Americans seemed intent on breaking Nigeria’s spirit, and when that was accomplished with ease, Team USA made a profound statement with their marksmanship.
Nigeria was the first to get the message.
“When they shoot like this, I don’t know if there is any team that can beat them,” said Ike Diogu, one of the Nigerians who promised not to be intimidated by the Americans.
Bryant scored 16 points — 14 in the first quarter — for the Americans, who scored 49 points in the first, left the floor leading 78-45 at half and then doubled their total in the second half.
Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points, Kevin Love 15 and Kevin Durant 14 for the U.S., which will play Lithuania on Saturday. The Americans have won their first three games with ease, but now things are expected to get a lot tougher as they approach next week’s medal round.
Diogu scored 27 to lead Nigeria (1-2), which was as good as done after Durant hit a 3-pointer 11 seconds in, snapping an 0-for-14 slump by the U.S. in the first quarter in the tourney.
Bryant was mostly a non-factor in wins over France and Tunisia, playing just 21 minutes and getting into early foul trouble. But from the outset against Nigeria, the two-time Olympian nicknamed the Black Mamba was as deadly as ever. He set the tone by scoring seven quick points as the Americans (3-0) raced to a 13-0 lead, a haymaker that stunned the Nigerians.
Durant buried three 3-pointers, Bryant and Anthony added two from long-range and when Love, the NBA’s 3-point champion, came off the bench and knocked down his first 3, the United States’ shooting gallery of stars had opened a 41-15 lead and made the p.a. announcer’s pregame comment that “anything is possible” seem prophetic.
He was talking about a possible upset. The only surprise in the first quarter was when the Americans missed.
“We were looking forward to this game,” Diogu said. “You know we wanted to use this to show the world what type of team we are.
“We just came out flat, turned the ball over too many times and they made us pay every time.”
After starting so sluggishly in blowout wins over France and Tunisia, Team USA came flying out of the gates, led by Bryant.
The Americans seemed intent on breaking Nigeria’s spirit, and when that was accomplished with ease, they made a profound statement with their marksmanship.
Nigeria was the first to get the message.
“Anthony, who made five 3-pointers in the first half, put on a shooting clinic in the third quarter. With the USA bench standing in anticipation every time he touched the ball on the perimeter, Anthony made all five of his attempts, punctuating one that made it 97-54 by throwing back his head, laughing and shrugging his shoulders.
He was in a zone unlike any seen before.
“It’s a great accomplishment to get that record,” said Anthony, who broke Stephon Marbury’s scoring mark of 31 against Spain in 2004. “We did it in a very highly classy way. We went out there and we played basketball. We made shots. We make shots like that and play the way we played tonight, that record could have came on any team.”
Anthony wasn’t the lone sniper as the Americans made 29 of 46 3-pointers (63 percent), numbers that could stand for several more Olympiads.
Although an Olympic rookie, Nigeria, with 10 players who played college ball in the United States, also has its share of pro experience.
Diogu, who was born in Buffalo, N.Y., after his parents emigrated from Africa, has played for eight NBA teams and Al-Farouq. The No. 8 overall pick in the 2010 draft, Diogu was traded last year by the Los Angeles Clippers to New Orleans in the deal for USA guard Chris Paul.
But there isn’t a team in the Olympics that can match the American’s celebrated roster with a combined 43 All-Star appearances, seven NBA titles and four league MVPs.