THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 4 : Men’s Basketball : United States Rallies in Second Half to Beat Upstart Canada, 76-70
The dynasty teetered, and not because of any challenge by Soviets, Yugoslavs or Oscars. The menace was posed by our friendly neighbor to the north, Canada, known in basketball for its pluck and little else.
How close did the Canadians come Tuesday to the unthinkable?
They led by eight points late in the first half.
They led by eight again early in the second half.
The United States didn’t take the lead for good until Little Charles Smith’s steal and Hersey Hawkins’ breakaway layup with 9:55 left. The United States hung on to win, 76-70, running its Olympic record to 81-1-with-an-asterisk, and left sighing.
What could it mean? The Canadians were beaten, 125-109, by the Brazilians Saturday and don’t figure to medal here.
Is U.S. might a myth?
“The U.S. in every competition is always heads and shoulders above everyone,” said Canada’s Jack Donohue, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s high school coach.
“The problem the U.S. has, as John Thompson is aware, is this is an all-star team and it’s played together for a short period of time, with little international experience. I mean, this is a different game.
“If we had to play in the United States, or in a U.S. environment, nobody would beat them. But thank God, we’re not playing them there.”
A further problem: If you slow the United States down, as Donohue always does, you force it to execute, rather than run a track meet with layups. Whether this is just a bad-shooting U.S. team, or whether the Americans were feeling the pressure, they got good shots all game and stacked bricks to the ceiling.
Having reined the Americans in, the Canadians did what they could. They have some players with ability--guard Eli Pasquale has been to National Basketball Assn. camps in Seattle, Portland, Ore., and Chicago and guard Jay Triano has auditioned with the Lakers'--and they have some others who are simply cagey.
Meet Alan Kristmanson, a slow, ungainly 6-foot 9-inch reserve forward. Several Americans did Tuesday and regretted it.
Kristmanson back-doored the greyhound Willie Anderson for a layup.
Moments later, he fired in a flat-footed 3-pointer right over the forehead of Mitch Richmond.
In all, Kristmanson scored a game-high 25 points, to go with the 25 he got, also off the bench, against Brazil.
Where did he come from? Some Great White North hoop hotbed near the U.S. border?
“Alan wrote me a letter 2 years ago,” Donohue said. “He was a player-coach in New Zealand. He said if he got a tryout, he’d come back, no strings attached.
“I had to write him back not a great letter. . . . All I could tell him was we knew who he was--which might have been an exaggeration.”
The United States never trailed in its opener against Spain, which was considerate enough to run with them, but they went down a fast 6-0 in this one, as Pasquale and Triano knocked in 3-pointers.
They were down, 32-24, late in the half, with Kristmanson at the line shooting 1-and-1 for a possible 10-point lead. He missed and Hawkins hit successive 3-pointers to close the gap to 32-30 at the half.
Surely the United States would take no prisoners in the second half.
Oops. Canada went on another 8-0 spurt early, including a long non-jumper and two free throws by Kristmanson, and led 50-42.
The long-awaited U.S. rally began. David Robinson, who sat out much of the first half in foul trouble, blocked shots on three straight possessions. The United States took a 56-55 lead on Smith’s steal and feed to Hawkins for a breakaway, then opened it up with 3 straight outside shots, a 2-pointer and a 3-pointer by Smith and a 3-pointer by Hawkins.
Hawkins is no surprise and Smith shouldn’t be. A 6-foot, 160-pounder, Smith was recruited to be a soldier at Georgetown, but has made a name for himself as a clutch shooter.
“I just think Smitty’s a very competitive person,” Coach John Thompson said. “You’ve got a quart body and a 10-gallon heart in it.”
When that rare burst of artillery was over, the Americans led, 64-58. The Canadians chased them to the wire, but the Americans hit enough big shots.
Thompson went to a stall--to boos--in the closing minutes. With 26 seconds left and the United States ahead, 71-67, Dan Majerle stepped up and nailed a 3-pointer--the United States hit 7 of 11 3-pointers--from the top of the circle, and the colossus was finally safe.
Manning led a balanced U.S. offense with 12 points, 1 more than Majerle.
Pasquale backed Kristmanson with 17 points for Canada.
“When you play Canada, there’s a special incentive,” Thompson said later. “It reminds me of ’76 and our game against Puerto Rico (the 1-point victory, with Butch Lee starring for the underdogs). They’re from our side of the world. They’re accustomed to seeing us. I told our kids, ‘They’re not going to be in awe of you.’ ”
He had that right. The Canadians went to their bus, insisting this had been no fluke.
“We beat them in ’83 (in the World University Games),” Kristmanson said. “Everybody said that wasn’t a very good U.S. team. They had Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Ed Pinckney, Johnny Dawkins. Those guys are making a lot of money right now.”
Said Donohue: “I would not bet against the U.S.--except when our guys are playing them. I really mean that, because I know what our guys can do.
“They believe they can play with anyone. And what they said is exactly right. Why in the heck would you go into the game where you (thought you had) had no chance of winning. A forfeit would be a better story. We’d get a lot of publicity out of it, they’d be talking about Canada for the next 10 years.”
Hawks was asked later if he was disappointed in the way the Americans had played.
“Not really,” he said. “We won.”