Barcelona ’92 OLYMPICS / DAY 13 : Lithuanians Get the Picture Early : Basketball: Jordan wakes up and United States runs off to 127-76 victory in semifinals.
When Michael Jordan misses 10 of 11 shots and you can hear the bench snoring, and real teams appear on the schedule, what time is it, boys and girls?
Yes, it was time for the Dream Team to awaken.
They rose to their full, immense height Thursday night, just in time to crush Lithuania, 127-76, and advance to Saturday’s gold-medal game against the Croatians, whom they have already routed.
The Lithuanians provided the core of the 1988 Soviet team that upset the United States, but they took this game for what it was--hopeless--and enjoyed it hugely.
By the middle of the second half, starting forward Arturas Karnisovas was on the bench, snapping pictures.
“They’re still my heroes,” said Karnisovas, who played for Seton Hall last season. “It doesn’t matter that we played against them. I know we’re not on the same level. They are the stars of stars.”
Next to Karnisovas on the bench sat the Lithuanian press attache, shooting pictures. In front of them knelt the ballboy with another camera, clicking away.
“Oh shoot, our guys are basketball fans and they were enjoying beautiful basketball,” said Lithuanian (and Golden State Warrior) assistant coach Donn Nelson. “The comments on our bench when (the American players) were doing their dunks--they could challenge a few color commentators.”
The U.S. players slouched through a game against Spain and, after practicing for the first--and last--time since play opened, sleepwalked their way past Puerto Rico. Jordan scored four points in that game, perhaps feeling the effects of a stomach virus or golf deprivation.
Was a window of vulnerability opening a sliver?
The next day, the supposedly unbeatable U.S. women were upended.
Yes, their male counterparts noticed.
“That helped us, too,” Magic Johnson said. “We knew if we came in like that, we can be beat, too.
“I told Michael, ‘Michael, I don’t need you to be Michael Jordan. I need to you to be Air Jordan.’ ”
Sure enough, that was a different Jordan who exploded out of the blocks Thursday. He hit a 19-footer to start the game, and the United States jumped to an 11-0 lead.
Lithuania missed its first six shots but regained enough poise to cut the score to 14-8, after which the Americans went on a 20-0 run with a withering volley of fast-break basketball.
Then it was Showtime again.
The Americans had Lithuanian Coach Constantinos Rigas to thank, as much as anyone.
Everyone else slowed the U.S. team down with zone defenses, but Rigas, perhaps in a what-the-heck mood, went man-to-man all the way, a gift for a running team.
“They wanted to see the challenge,” Johnson said.
They saw it, all right, up close and personal.
“Karl Malone pushed me away one time like I wasn’t there,” Karnisovas said. “My coach says, ‘Oh, you’re like a girl.’ I said, ‘In the NBA, I would be a guard.’ (Malone’s) arm is as big as my leg.
“I’m sure my old (Seton Hall) teammates were watching on TV. They’re going, ‘He’s on Jordan. Oh, Jordan’s going to dunk on him! He’s on (Charles) Barkley! He’s in trouble!’ ”
It was that kind of night, one the Americans and Lithuanians could enjoy together.
Afterward, they shook hands at midcourt. The U.S. players started to file off, but someone asked Johnson if they could take a group photo together, so he called them all back.
The crowd cheered, and it was the nicest moment at a U.S. game in a week.
One game remains for the Americans. Their charter flight will take off a few hours later.
Then it’s home sweet home.
“I miss crime and murder,” Barkley said. “I miss Philadelphia. There hasn’t been a brutal stabbing here the last 24 hours or anything. I miss it.”
Philadelphia may or may not miss him, but hey, as he’d tell you, that’s America.
Charles Barkley raked Arvidas Sabonis while going up for a shot in the second half, introducing the 7-foot-3 Lithuanian center to the NBA “hard foul.” Sabonis didn’t like it. . . . Sabonis missed his first nine shots but finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. “He could play in our league,” Magic Johnson said, “I didn’t know he could pass like that. Only thing that hurts him is his mobility.” . . . The U.S. team made a dozen spectacular passes, seeming to increase the degree of difficulty each time. Finally, after a ball going out of bounds bounced off a referee’s foot and stayed in, Larry Bird knocked the next rebound off the same referee’s foot, apparently trying to keep it inbounds and pick it up. It went out of bounds. Bird later denied trying to do it, so maybe it was a coincidence.