The Games are anticipated as carnivals, shows every other night
in which the Dream Team lays destruction on some hopeless batch
of foreigners and in the process makes it look like the
highlights segment of NBA's Inside Stuff. But the matchups have
evolved as something else altogether, wooden displays in which
the outcome is preordained and the actual execution makes
Olympic archery seem like the NBA Finals.
This is an article from the July 25, 1996 issue
Chapter 3 of Dream Team III unfolded last night at the Georgia
Dome, where the U.S. beat Lithuania 104-82 before an
Olympic-basketball-record audience of 31,447. This was an
opponent that played without NBA veteran Sarunas Marciulionis of
the Denver Nuggets and for all but five minutes of the first
half without Arvydas Sabonis of the Portland Trail Blazers. Yet
Lithuania was tied with the U.S. with just over three minutes to
play in the first half.
The victory was much like the U.S. wins over Argentina and
Angola: uninspired and unimpressive. Worst of all, it was lousy
entertainment. Either the Dream Team is going through the
motions or the likes of 6'9" Lithuanian forward Gintaras
Einikis, who scored 21 points on David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon
and Shaquille O'Neal, have gotten better very fast.
The Dream Team has heard similar criticism. "It's a double-edged
sword," said coach Lenny Wilkens. "Nobody is satisfied. But
that's the way our society is. We're always looking for
problems. The gap between us and the other teams has gotten
smaller. The other players aren't in awe of us anymore."
There is a predictable rhythm to this edition of the NBA
superstars on vacation, and last night's game could have been
the prototype. Even with Marciulionis sitting out with an
injured right knee; Sabonis on the bench with foul trouble; and
Arturas Karnishovas, the 6'7" former Seton Hall forward, limited
to 10 first-half minutes by a sore right ankle, Lithuania stuck
to the Dream Team as if it were a sweaty MARTA rider in
midafternoon. When Lithuanian guard Tomas Pacesas drilled a
three-point shot from the right side with 3:07 left in the first
half, the game was tied 40-40.
At that point the U.S. outscored Lithuania 10-2, including
three-pointers by Grant Hill and Reggie Miller, to finish the
half. After Gary Payton opened the second half with a
three-point jumper and Charles Barkley followed with a
three-point play, the threat, however artificial, had passed.
It was Lithuanian assistant coach Donn Nelson, the son of former
NBA coach Don Nelson, who had chided a group of U.S. writers
before the game. "We're going to smack 'em by 30 points," Nelson
said. And then he rolled his eyes. It was meant as a cheap joke.
But that would have been a good show. This was not.