Dream Team is II much down stretch


TORONTO -- Russian coach Sergei Belov played on the 1972 Soviet Union Olympic team that shocked the United States to win the gold medal, so he knew exactly how to pump his players up for last night's game against Dream Team II.

"The players we face are not superhuman -- top-notch professionals -- but human," Belov said. "Once on the court, there would be five-on-five on each side."

With that plan in mind, Russia did the unthinkable in last night's final quarterfinal game at the World Championship of Basketball -- almost playing even with the Dream Team. But reality sank in in the second half in the form of Shaquille O'Neal and Joe Dumars, who lifted the Dream Team to a 111-94 win before 27,083 at SkyDome.

The medal round is next for the Dream Team, which will face Greece in a semifinal today.

Croatia, an 81-55 winner over Greece yesterday, will face Russia.

Boston Celtics forward Dino Radja dominated inside, getting 27 points and 10 rebounds for Croatia, which closed the game with a 21-6 run. Stojan Vrankovic had 12 points and 12 rebounds. Fanis Christodoulo led Greece with 12 points.

O'Neal scored 21 points and Dumars 20, as the Dream Team improved to 6-0 in the tournament. But after 50-point wins against Australia and Puerto Rico, the Dream Team was forced to bear down.

"It was clear in the first half that we had to play good basketball for a long period of time," said Dream Team coach Don Nelson. "It was good for us to go through those moments where everything was difficult."

Those difficult moments came when the Russians shook off a 10-point deficit to take a 30-28 lead on a three-pointer by Dergei Bazarevich with 9:36 left in the first half -- the latest the Dream Team has trailed in the tournament. It was enough to force Nelson to abandon his freestyle substitution pattern.

By halftime, the Dream Team's lead was just 52-44. The Dream Team missed 22 of 42 shots in the half.

"We knew that they played hard. They rebounded well, and they had their big guys making outside shots," Nelson said. "I thought they had a good game plan."

So, Nelson was forced to go with what he considers his strongest lineup to start the second half, playing O'Neal and Shawn Kemp up front, with a three-guard rotation of Dumars, Reggie Miller and Kevin Johnson.

Still, the Russians were able to pull to within five when Mikhail Mikhailov scored on layup that cut the Dream Team's lead to 56-51.

But O'Neal became too much of an obstacle for Russia, which had just one player over 7 feet. O'Neal scored 11 points during a 17-6 run, with all five of his field goals during the span coming from no farther than three feet away.

O'Neal's inside dominance opened up the outside shooters. Dumars scored 15 of his points in the second half, including three three-pointers, to help the Dream Team break open the game.

"Joe Dumars did an outstanding job on both ends of the court," Nelson said. "We owe this game to him. We really needed it."

Dumars, who did not play in Wednesday's game against Puerto Rico, said he enjoyed the challenge of playing against the disciplined Russian team.

"I thought they were a smart team," Dumars said. "They really make you play pure basketball, and I enjoy that."

And O'Neal played his usual power game.

"There nothing you can do with Shaq in the NBA, let alone international play," Johnson said. "Our jump shots from the perimeter weren't falling, so we made up an alternate game plan."

That Shaq game plan was one that Belov, who complained about what he called "illegal" activities that the Dream Team gets away with, could not counter.

"We did have a plan," Belov said of playing against O'Neal. "Unfortunately, we didn't have the players to carry out the plan. We have to be realistic."

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