They Almost Lost : LUSENET : TB2K spinoff uncensored : One Thread

U.S. Basketball 85, Lithuania 83

By CHRIS SHERIDAN, AP Basketball Writer

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - One of the greatest upsets in the history of basketball came within inches of happening. The mighty Americans, the team that couldn't lose, almost did just that.

In a game that wasn't decided until the final shot missed by about a foot, the United States edged Lithuania 85-83 Friday night to reach the gold medal game.

The potential winning shot was taken from 3-point range by Sarunas Jasikevicius and appeared to leave his hand after the final buzzer. But one of the referees held his hand up to signal that the shot would count if it went.

It didn't, missing short and left, and the Americans escaped with what was by far their closest victory - and their biggest scare - since NBA players started competing in the Olympics in 1992.

"If somebody had told us coming to the Olympics that we would lose to the U.S. by two points, nobody would have believed him," Lithuania's Tomas Masiulis said. "But tonight, we even had a chance to win."

Coming into these Olympics, few even believed it was possible to play a close game against the U.S. men, who had never won by fewer than 22 points in the two previous Olympics.

But that's what happened on this incredible night in a game in which neither team led by more than three points over the final 15 1/2 minutes.

"I don't know, if we had lost, if we would have come back for the bronze medal game," said Ray Allen, who thought the final shot was going in. "I don't know how we would have felt on that 14-15 hour flight back to our cities and families."

The dramatic final minute was like a game unto itself, with Lithuania's best free throw shooter, who hadn't missed from the line in the entire tournament, missing two out of three when he had a chance to give his team a three-point lead with 43.4 seconds left.

Some 18 seconds later, the pressure got to Kevin Garnett, too, as he missed a pair from the line with a chance to put the U.S. team up by three.

Antonio McDyess, who had fouled Ramunas Siskauskas in 3-point territory moments earlier, atoned for his blunder by converting Garnett's second miss to make it 84-81.

"I was feeling so low, my heart was in my shoe," McDyess said. "I knew I had to come out and make a big play. I knew if he missed the second I had to get the ball, and I said, 'Ain't nobody gonna stop me from getting this ball."'

Jasikevicius, who led Lithuania with 27 points, decided to forsake a tying 3-point attempt and drove through traffic for a layup that made it a one-point game with 11.4 seconds left. The Lithuanians then fouled Jason Kidd, and he made only one of two with 9.4 seconds left.

The teams scrambled for the rebound of Kidd's miss and a jump ball was called, and Lithuania got a final chance when McDyess was called for a jump ball violation.

Jasikevicius, closely guarded by Kidd, dribbled away almost all of the remaining 5.2 seconds trying to get free before attempting his shot from about 22 feet away.

"I made him turn, and he took a bad shot," Kidd said.

When it missed, U.S. coach Rudy Tomjanovich pumped his fist, Carter pointed to the sky and the Americans celebrated at center court as if they had just won the game of their lives.

And indeed, they had.

"We definitely would have been the goat of the Olympics," Kidd said.

The United States moved on to face France in the gold medal game Sunday.

U.S. assistant coach Larry Brown, irate at the officiating, went after the referees as they left the court and had to be held back by other members of the U.S. staff.

Lithuania, which lost to the Americans by just nine points in the preliminary round, will have to settle for the bronze medal game against Australia.

But with what they nearly pulled off, they should get some sort of special medal for changing the way the world will view basketball.

"Lithuania showed big heart. No one expected them to come out and play the way they did. They never backed down once," McDyess said.

Only a week ago, many were wondering whether it was still a good idea to send professional players to the Olympics. The games weren't even competitive, they said, and the rest of the world was still 20 years away from a victory, they believed.

No one will ever make that argument again.

Lithuania, which won the bronze in 1992 and 1996, was competing without two of its best players - NBA centers Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas Ilgauskas - who had to miss the Olympics because of injuries.

But even without them, they had a decent plan and enough talent to almost pull off a miracle.

Lithuania went on an 20-4 run early in the second half to turn an 11-point deficit into a two-point lead, making four 3-pointers and playing a tight zone defense that forced the Americans into taking outside shots that they just couldn't hit.

Saulius Stombergas hit two foul shots with 15:05 left to give Lithuania its first lead since the opening minute, 56-54, and the realization of what was happening started taking a toll on both teams.

Suddenly, jumpers came up short. Turnovers came in bunches. Tomjanovich couldn't or wouldn't sit down.

Carter clanged two free throws with 5:28 left, leaving the score tied at 68-68, and Darius Songaila nailed an 8-footer from the corner after Garnett rejected a shot.

That made it 70-68 Lithuania with 5:03 left, and two foul shots by Jasikevicius gave Lithuania a 72-70 lead with 4:23 left. Carter hit a 3-pointer from the corner to put the Americans back ahead, and Garnett rebounded a miss and fired a 60-foot pass to Carter streaking ahead of the field for an uncontested dunk and a three-point lead.

Again, though, the Lithuanians came back. Two foul shots by Songaila gave them another lead, 78-77. Alonzo Mourning made two from the line with 1:58 left to put the Americans ahead, but he drew his fifth and final foul with 1:36 left by fouling Jasikevicius on a drive.

The 6-foot-4 point guard calmly sank both to give Lithuania an 80-79 lead, and Carter made only one of two with 1:19 left to leave the game tied.

Siskauskas, who was 16-for-16 on foul shots during the Olympics, went to the line with 43.4 seconds left and the score tied 80-80. The pressure got to him as the first was short and the second was off-line.

He made the third to give Lithuania a one-point lead, but Carter answered with a high floater from the left side to make it 82-81 with 31 seconds left.

"We won the game," McDyess said. "It's not a matter of whether it's two points or 30 points. We never said we were the '92 or '96 team, we're the 2000 team, and as long as we play hard, that's OK.

"Now we look forward to Sunday," McDyess said, thankful that his team had survived a Friday that will go down in Olympic lore.

-- Little Old Lil (L@o.L), September 29, 2000

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