GUANGZHOU, China – Phoenix Suns star Ricky Rubio led Spain with 17 points as the title contenders made a slow start to their FIBA World Cup campaign in a 101-62 victory over Tunisia on Saturday, August 31.
The Olympic bronze medalists have been touted as a threat to reigning two-time champions the United States, who are without their big names in China.
But the Spanish were not at their best in the first half against minnows Tunisia despite boasting Marc Gasol, the 34-year-old center who played a key role in the Toronto Raptors' historic run to the NBA crown.
Spain led by just 3 points at halftime and there was the whiff of a huge upset, but they stepped on the gas after that in Guangzhou with Rubio also clocking up a leading 9 assists.
"Always the first game is a little tricky, you don't know how it will go," said the 28-year-old point guard, who joined the Suns this summer, adding his team had not been aggressive enough at the outset.
"Playing with the national team is different (from the NBA)," he added.
"You play with your friends, for your country, and for your family too.
Hosts China suffered a fright against the Ivory Coast before battling to victory against the lowest-ranked in the 32-team competition.
A rabid sell-out crowd at Wukesong Arena in Beijing was silenced as the Ivorians, ranked a lowly 64th in the world to China's 30th, took a shock lead into the 2nd quarter.
The home side, who boast a towering front court of 3 seven-footers – Yi Jianlian, Zhou Qi and Wang Zhelin – was in danger of getting swallowed up by high expectations.
But China pulled level 29-29 at the break and willed on by the home crowd suffocated the Ivory Coast into submission, 70-55.
There was disappointment for visiting President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines, whose side was well beaten 108-62 by Italy.
Strongly fancied Serbia made a similarly ruthless start to its World Cup assault, thrashing Angola 105-59 in the opening match of the tournament.
Serbia was a strong favorite against Angola in the southern city of Foshan and wasted no time stamping its mark on the World Cup.
The United States, who have named a young side, open its title defense on Sunday in Shanghai against the Czech Republic.
The Americans are without the likes of LeBron James, but Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic said that Gregg Popovich's team – still packed with NBA talent – remains the side to beat in China.
"I am not thinking about the USA team," Djordjevic said. "I do respect them, I think they are the biggest favorites."
"They don't have some of the players but they still have a great, great team with great players, great coach."
Guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, of the NBA team Sacramento Kings, led the way for Olympic and world silver medallists Serbia, scoring 24 points against the wilting Angolans.
"Serious game, serious approach, serious preparation," said the stern Djordjevic.
"It's our trademark all these years – playing together, we like to share the ball, we like to pass, we have a lot of guys who are not selfish.
"This is really great for a coach, I'm proud when I see that, it's the trademark of Serbian basketball."
Day 1 results
Poland 80, Venezuela 69
China 70, Ivory Coast 55
Russia 82, Nigeria 77
Argentina 95, South Korea 69
Puerto Rico 83, Iran 81
Spain 101, Tunisia 62