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Russia Puts Up a Fight


SYDNEY, Australia — The problem with a good international incident these days is, even the Russians speak English, and everybody laughs about it.

Vince Carter wanted to tell the Russian player he thought had undercut him on a dunk a thing or two as the teams headed off at halftime of the U.S. men's basketball team's 85-70 quarterfinal victory Thursday. It was the latest not-quite-a-blowout for the Americans, who advanced to a semifinal today against Lithuania.

The teams tangled, players were restrained, and afterward the questions flew.

Russia's Nikita Morgunov finally all but threw up his arms with a half-exasperated laugh.

"Everyone forget about this moment. You can believe me," he said. "Always everybody continue to ask me about this moment.

"Don't worry about this. It's normal.

"No Cold War in basketball, man."

It was a comic scene--all the more so because the sometimes hotheaded Carter was jawing at the wrong player.

He put a finger in the face of No. 11 Zakhar Pachoutine when it was his brother, No. 10 Yevgeny Pachoutine, who had given Carter a little shove on an alley-oop pass from Jason Kidd just before halftime.

"I swear it was No. 11," Carter said when told he'd gone after the wrong man, then laughed at himself. "He can tell his brother then.

"I put my finger right about there and said, 'That low blow is not necessary in this game.' That's all I said.

"It was just emotional. In high school, I broke my wrist that way."

Gary Payton took up the cause, going after the correct Pachoutine. Then Carter pushed away Morgunov, and an official restrained Pachoutine--once again, the correct one.

There were no echoes of the U.S. losses in 1972 and 1988 to the former Soviet Union, just reminders once again that this team is not the force the first two Dream Teams were.

The U.S. fell behind by 10 in the first half again, led by only five at halftime, and finished with a 15-point victory, the third closest in the NBA era--all three of them in Sydney.

The reward was a rematch against Lithuania. And if you needed any idea where international basketball is headed, you didn't have to wait for the translation when you saw the playful smirk on Lithuanian Coach Jonas Kazlauskas' face when he was asked about facing the U.S. in the semifinals as the U.S.-Russia game began.

"It's too early to talk about Team USA because the game is not over," Kazlauskas said. "Everything can happen in basketball."

It is increasingly conceivable that the U.S. will lose, probably not in this Olympics, but before long.

"You saw today, this is not like it was five years before," Yevgeny Pachoutine said. "Now it's young players, the Americans. Not so star like Jordan."

Kevin Garnett led the U.S. with 16 points and 11 rebounds in his most energetic performance yet.

Carter had 15 points, but did it on four-of-15 shooting and missed two dunks, one so badly that he laughed at himself after the ball slipped out of his hand.

"I wear the big X all day for this team," Carter said.

"Maybe you thought that was wrong of me. I thought I handled it well.

"They do it, it's not a problem. I do it, it's national news."

No case of mistaken identity there.

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