Mac TA coach Blatt leads Russia vs US for spot in semis

“It’s kind of mind boggling for me...I hope my guys are less confused and they’ll get out there and play."

Blatt 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Blatt 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
ISTANBUL - Before David Blatt moved to Israel in the early 1980’s, he was a teenager in Massachusetts in 1972, and remembers crying after the Soviet Union’s controversial victory over the United States for the Olympic gold medal.
Blatt, who is currently the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv, now thinks the Americans were wrong, that they weren’t cheated.
That’s not all that’s changed for Blatt when it comes to basketball and his original homeland.
The Kentucky native-turned-Israeli now coaches Russia, which will meet the US on Thursday for a spot in the semifinals of the world championship.
“It’s kind of mind boggling for me,” Blatt said. “I hope my guys are less confused and they’ll get out there and play.
I just don’t want to mess it up too bad.”
Russia advanced to the quarterfinals with a superb defensive performance in a 78-56 victory over New Zealand on Monday.
Hours earlier at the Sinan Erdem Dome, the Americans crushed Angola 121-66 in their best effort of the tournament.
“If we play like that, I don’t think really anybody could beat us,” US guard Eric Gordon said.
Blatt played at Princeton, and its offensive principles show in Russia’s deliberate pace. But Blatt doesn’t sound convinced that anything can be done to slow the US speedsters.
“We obviously lack certain things that they’re going to attack and they’re going to try to take advantage of, and all things considered I’d rather be in Philadelphia right now,” Blatt said. “I really don’t want to play them, but we’re going to, and for my guys it’s a great, fun thing, and I know my guys will compete.”
The game comes 38 years to the day after the Soviet Union’s 51-50 victory in the gold-medal game in Munich. The Americans took a one-point lead on Doug Collins’ free throws with 3 seconds left, and seemed to have won when the Soviets inbounded and didn’t score.
But the Soviets claimed they’d called timeout, and an official had whistled for play to stop when he saw a disturbance near the scorer’s table. Time was put back on the clock, and again the Americans celebrated as the Soviets failed to score after inbounding.
More confusion followed because the clock was still being reset when the ball was put in play. Given a third chance when FIBA’s secretary general ordered the final three seconds replayed, the Soviets won when Aleksander Belov caught a long pass over two US players and scored.
Their 63-game Olympic winning streak snapped when basketball’s governing body denied their protest, the Americans voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals, which remain locked away.
“I hate to say it as an American, but it looks like the Russians were right. The American team was not cheated,” Blatt said. “Funny things happened, but in reality it was fair.”
Blatt is unsure if he will return as Russia’s coach, but said he hasn’t thought about what an upset of the Americans could do for his career.
“My mind tends to wander to things that are somewhat realistic. I don’t know how realistic that is,” he said.
Though Blatt makes the US sound invincible, the other American coach in the game believes otherwise.
“We are not unbeatable,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “It’s an honor for us to be in these competitions,” he said. “But we also know that we’re beatable.”
On Tuesday night, Linas Kleiza scored 30 points to help send Lithuania into the quarterfinals with a 78-67 win over China.
Brazil and Argentina also faced off in a match that ended after press time.