USA-Russia, Another Classic On The Way?
Sept. 8, 2010 • Istanbul, Turkey
Through the years, there's been no rivalry in international basketball that matches the intense history between the United States and the USSR.
Even though the old Soviet Union is no longer, Thursday's pending quarterfinals match between the USA and Russia brings plenty of classic games to mind.
And by an odd twist of fate, Thursday's game will be exactly 38 years to the day of one of the most controversial games ever played in international basketball....that of couse being the 1972 Olympic gold medal game between the USA and USSR.
"When you think of international basketball you think of USA and Russia games, that (the 1972 Olympic gold medal game) being one of them, but that’s not the only one of them," said USA mentor Mike Krzyzewski. "We’ve addressed the fact that game was played 38 years ago and that five of these guys are 21 so I don’t think they remember it as well."
The 1972 Olympic Games gold medal showdown featured a pair of 8-0 teams. The USA-USSR final was as expected, a hotly contested ball game. The USSR took a 7-0 lead and by half was in possession of a 26-21 lead.
With 12:18 to play and the Soviets holding a 38-34 lead, the USA's 6'8' Dwight Jones, the USA's top scorer and rebounder, and Soviet reserve Dvorni Edeshko were ejected from the game after a loose ball scuffle. On the ensuing jump ball, 6'9' Jim Brewer suffered a concussion after being knocked to the floor.
The U.S. continued to lag behind in the second half, but narrowed the gap to one point, 49-48 on Jim Forbes' jumper with 40 seconds remaining. The Soviet's worked the clock down to 10 seconds but Tom McMillen blocked Aleksander Belov's shot and Doug Collins intercepted his pass as he attempted to pass it back out to center court. Collins drove to the basket and was undercut as he attempted a layup with three seconds left. Awarded two free throws, a groggy Collins sank the frist free throw, then, despite the horn going off in the middle of his second attempt, made the second to put the USA ahead 50-49 with :03 left on the scoreboard clock.
From there, confusion reigned.
Immediately following Collins' free throws, the Soviets inbounded the ball and failed to score. But one official had whistled play to stop with one second remaining after hearing the earlier horn and seeing a disturbance near the scorers table. The Soviets argued that they had requested a timeout before Collins' foul shots.
The referees ordered the clock reset to three seconds and the game's final seconds replayed. However, the clock was in the process of being reset when the referees put the ball in play. A length of the court Soviet pass missed its mark, the horn sounded and the U.S. again began celebrating.
However, R. William Jones, Secretary General of FIBA, stepped in and ordered the clock again reset to :03 and the game replayed from that point. This time, the Soviet's Aleksander Belov and the USA's Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes went up for the pass, Belov caught the long pass from Ivan Edeshko at the foul line sending the two Americans sprawling, Belov then drove to the basket for the layup and the winning points.
Post-game, the U.S. filed a protest and FIBA officials met to discuss the protest. The U.S. protest was denied and the Soviets were awarded the gold medals. The U.S. team voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals and to this day no member of the U.S. Olympic Team has accepted his medal. .
While the USA was 6-2 against the USSR in Olympic action and just 4-5 in World Championship games, since the breakup of the Soviet Union, the USA is 3-1 versus Russia in World Championship play. The U.S. posted wins over Russia in second round play in 2002 (106-82), and won 137-91 in the 1994 World Championship gold medal game in Toronto, and also earned a 111-94 win in 1994 in the quarterfinals round.
The USA's lone setback to Russia came in the 1998 World Championship when the U.S. team was comprised of collegians and professional players from Europe because of the NBA lockout. The USA's quest for World Championship gold came to a halt in the semifinals after Russia overcame a 10-point U.S. lead in the final three minutes. Forward Serguei Panov, following a controversial offensive call wnet against the USA Team, went coast-to-coast to score a layup with 4 seconds left to give his team an improbable 66-64 win.
More recently, the USA claimed an 89-68 win in an exhibition game (8/3/08) between the two squads in Shanghai, China, that was held in advance of the 2008 Olympic Games. Kobe Bryantled the American offensive effort with a game high 19 points, while Carmelo Anthony finished with 17 points and seven rebounds, and Dwyane Wade recorded 16 points. Russia was paced by Utah Jazz standout Andrei Kirilenko's 18 points, while American J.R. Holden, who played at Bucknell University, added 17 points.
Of course the USA and then USSR had a great rivalry in World Championship play from 1959-1986 (note the USSR did not compete in the 1950 or 1954 World Championships). In 1986, the last time the USA-USSR met in the World Championship, the U.S. collegians stunned the Soviets, who were led by 7'2" Arvidas Sabonis and sharpshooter Vlademaras Khomichus. The U.S. earned an 87-85 victory and World Championship gold after Kenny Smith sealed the win in 1986 with a layup over Sabonis with 15 seconds remaining in the game.
In 1982 the U.S. fell just short of a gold medal game victory 95-94 after a last second shot by the Americans fell off target. Earlier in action during the 1982 Worlds, the U.S. handed an undefeated Soviet team a 99-93 setback. It was the Soviets lone setback in 1982. Interestingly, “Doc” Rivers, now of course head coach of the Boston Celtics, was the USA’s leading scorer in 1982 averaging 17.0 ppg.
Even forgetting the great rivalry of the past, Thursday's quarterfinals game promises to be another memorable affair.