LONDON - David Blatt is a proud American who works as an elite coach in his ancestral home of Israel and coaches the Russian basketball team. He said "Shalom'' to a television camera before the playing of the Russian national anthem, and he has resuscitated the Russians' drowning national team.
Wednesday he gesticulated and screamed on the sideline as the most surprising team in the Olympic basketball tournament advanced to the semifinals. With future Timberwolf Andrei Kirilenko sprinting around the court like a younger version of himself, the Russians beat Lithuania 83-74 at North Greenwich Arena. They'll play Spain on Friday, probably for the right to face the United States for the gold medal.
Kirilenko had 19 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, three steals and three blocks, playing with the kind of passion Americans rarely see out of their men's Olympic team.
"Andrei is the greatest player in the history of Russian basketball, bar none,'' Blatt said. "And he is here of his own volition and leading us with his heart. In Russia, he is a Michael Jordan-like figure for us. He is our best player. He is also our hardest worker and our leader. And with him it is all coming from the heart.''
The Russians' other incoming Timberwolves player, Alexey Shved, continued his uneven play, and Blatt kept sending him onto -- and pulling him off of -- the court in the second half. Shved finished with four points on 2-for-12 shooting. He had six assists while running the pick-and-roll effectively, but he also had four turnovers.
"I'm happy we won the game,'' Shved said. "I'm not happy about my play. Well, I played defense and I helped the team, but I did not shoot well.''
Blatt is hard on Shved, but Shved didn't flinch when his coach was mentioned. "He is a very good coach. He makes us better,'' Shved said. "I just have to play better.''