AUBURN HILLS, Mich. -- The latest version of the Dream Team was unveiled yesterday and, for a while, there were questions about whether the right team was going to the Olympics.
Instead of quickly demolishing its opponent -- the original Dream Team won its games by an average of 43.8 points -- this team found itself trailing by 17 points at halftime against the USA Select 22-and-under team.
"They got off to a good start," Karl Malone would say after the game. "And they tried to bury us."
Desperate situations call for desperate actions, which is why the Dream Team spent the second half elbowing, shoving and tripping its younger foes on the way to a 96-90 win yesterday before a 21,454 at the Palace of Auburn Hills.
Sure, it was just an exhibition. But after the closest game ever since NBA players began participating in international competition four years ago, the Dream Team members were clearly embarrassed.
"Hopefully, this is a wake-up call," coach Lenny Wilkens said afterward. "I saw this before, and don't want to see this anymore."
It took the heroics of Scottie Pippen, Hakeem Olajuwon and Gary Payton to clinch the game for the Dream Team, which will continue its five-game tuneup tour in Cleveland this afternoon against Brazil.
Pippen scored 14 of his 17 points over the final 20 minutes, Olajuwon had 13 points and four blocks in 12 second-half minutes, and Payton played aggressive defense that took the Select team out of an offense that hit 62.9 percent of its shots in the first half.
"Gary Payton and Scottie Pippen turned it up a notch, and everyone else had to follow," said Charles Barkley, who had 11 points and a team-high seven rebounds. "We were just too lackadaisical when we started. And we can't come out and play that way."
Excuses? You can say that the Dream Team has been together for only a week, having just concluded five days of camp in Chicago last Friday. But the USA Select team just got together last Tuesday with coach Mike Montgomery of Stanford trying to round out a roster of 12 from 16 candidates.
Montgomery's plan going into the game was to play everyone equal minutes. On the way to building the 17-point lead at the half, that plan was discarded.
"I started with a preconceived plan," Montgomery said. "But at halftime I tore it up and told the coaches, 'We're going for it.' "
That was because his team was aggressive early and by the midpoint of the first half the Select team had a 34-20 lead after a layup by Chauncy Billups -- a 6-foot-3 forward from Colorado.
"Nobody backed down," said Wake Forest center Tim Duncan, who scored nine points and had six rebounds. "This is what we wanted to do, not back down."
And that caught the attention of Barkley, who muscled his way to three three-point plays during a 20-5 run that -- after a jumper by Olajuwon -- gave the Dream Team a 40-39 lead with 6: 23 left.
And just when you thought the Select team was on the verge of being routed, the youngsters ended the half with a 20-2 run. When Shea Seals (20 points, eight of 11 from the field) hit a three-pointer just before the halftime buzzer, the Select team had a 59-42 lead.
And visions of an upset.
"We were very excited," said Laurel native Louis Bullock, a guard at Michigan. "We wanted to come out and do the same things in the second half."
In the second half, Payton was pressing full-court, with the type of intensity he displayed during the NBA Finals. Barkley began knocking bodies around. Malone got into the act, trading elbows with Brevin Knight, not exactly a tough guy, standing 5-10.
"It got real physical," Malone said. "I wasn't trying to show anybody up. We just had to play that way."
The Dream Team would take the lead for good after two free throws by Robinson made it 78-76 with 6: 28 left. And although it would lead by as many as 11 points on the way to the win, the Dream Team couldn't ease through those final six minutes. The Dream Team was pushed every step, which didn't please Wilkens, who played neither Anfernee Hardaway nor Shaquille O'Neal in the second half as he tried to find the right combinations just to come up with the win.
"We sat back and really weren't as aggressive as I wanted to be," Wilkens said. "We can't afford to play that way against [Olympic] teams. We don't want to have this type of game again."
If you want to look for a positive, back in 1992 the original Dream Team was defeated by a group of college players that included Hardaway and Hill. But that game was just one 20-minute half, played behind closed doors, not on national television.
"The next three or four days, we got killed," Hill recalled. "So hopefully this will be a wake-up call."
DREAM TEAM -- Hill 3-3 0-0 6, Malone 4-6 5-6 13, O'Neal 2-7 3-4 7, Miller 1-6 2-2 5, Stockton 2-3 0-0 4, Pippen 6-9 4-6 17, Barkley 4-4 3-3 11, Payton 2-5 1-2 5, Robinson 3-4 6-7 12, Olajuwon 6-9 4-5 16, Richmond 0-3 0-0 0, Hardaway 0-2 -0-0 0. Totals 33-61 28-35 96.
SELECT TEAM -- Seals 8-11 0-0 20, Croshere 3-4 4-4 10, Duncan 2-6 5-6 9, Parker 2-4 0-0 4, Knight 3-9 2-2 8, Bailey 2-2 0-0 6, Taylor 3-8 0-0 6, Pierce 0-5 1-2 1, Skinner 1-3 1-3 3, Billups 3-7 0-0 7, Carr 3-3 0-0 8, Lisicky 0-1 0-0 0, Bullock 2-3 4-5 8, Carlisle 0-1 0-0 0, Young 0-0 0-0 0, Okey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 32-67 17-22 90.
Halftime--Select Team 59, Dream Team 42. 3-point goals--Dream Team 2-11 (Pippen 1-1, Miller 1-5, Payton 0-1, Richmond 0-2, Hardaway 0-2), Select Team 9-16 (Seals 4-5, Bailey 2-2, Carr 2-2, Billups 1-2, Lisicky 0-1, Bullock 0-1, Carlisle 0-1, Pierce 0-2). Fouled out--None. Rebounds--Dream Team 42 (Barkley 7), Select Team 33 (Duncan 6). Assists--Dream Team 19 (Payton 5), Select Team 18 (Knight 5). Total fouls--Dream Team 21, Select Team 25. A21,454.
Pub Date: 7/07/96