LONDON – There is at least one Israeli who will return home from the London Olympics with a medal after coach David Blatt guided the Russian basketball team to an 81-77 victory over Argentina to clinch the bronze medal on Sunday.
With the Israeli delegation failing to win an Olympic medal for the first time since the Seoul Games in 1988, Blatt dedicated his accomplishment on Sunday to Israeli sports on a whole, also saying it was a present for the people of Israel.
“I can’t describe how happy and proud I am at this moment,” he said minutes after Russia clinched a dramatic win.
“We displayed two weeks of amazing basketball. We won the European Championships in 2007, took a bronze in the EuroBasket last year and have now claimed a bronze in the biggest stage of them all.
“But above all else, I can say today that part of this medal is for Israeli sports. I’m mainly a product of Israeli sports and I give this medal as a gift to everyone in Israel.”
The bronze medal game went back and forth until the closing seconds when Russia claimed the win in nail-biting fashion.
Manu Ginobili, who scored 21, gave Argentina a 77-76 lead with 43 seconds to play, but Alexei Shved, who netted 25 points, including 13 in the fourth quarter, hit a clutch three-pointer at the other end to put Russia in the driving seat.
Andres Nocioni had a chance to put Argentina back ahead, but failed to hit his shot and Vitaliy Fridzon’s layup with 5.2 seconds left sealed it for Russia.
“I dreamed about this as a kid, but never really believed this would happen,” Blatt said. “I’ve been watching the Olympics since I can remember myself and I was always jealous of the medal winners. Now I have also won one and this is so much fun.”
The Boston-born Israeli, who made aliya 30 years ago and is also the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, has accomplished remarkable success throughout his career but admitted that the Olympic medal tops it all.
“Fortunately, I have been part of many great teams which won many titles,” Blatt said. “But the Olympics are something else. It is uniquely special.”