LONDON - It was a fun story for Minnesotans to follow, the two new Timberwolves playing with great pride for the Russian national team, making the Russians the talk of the Olympic tournament.
It was a fun story until Andrei Kirilenko started to slow, and then suffered a bruised leg and flopped in the semifinals, and Alexey Shved started missing shots with that funky release of his, and the Russians collapsed in the second half against Spain on Friday.
The Russians lost 67-59 -- and lost a chance to meet the United States in the final in what would have been a 40th anniversary rematch of the Russians controversial, clock-stopping victory over the Americans in Munich.
Shved and Russian coach David Blatt said after the game that Kirilenko was slowed by a bruised quadriceps, but that doesn't explain why the player described by Blatt as "the Russian Michael Jordan" missed half of his 10 free throws and often looked lost around the rim.
Kirilenko made two of his 12 attempts from the field, finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds. He turned in a strong defensive performance, with three blocked shots and two steals, but looked far less spry with the ball in his hands.
"Andrei played hurt," Blatt said. "But he wasn't the same guy. He gave us all he had."
Kirilenko and Shved were two of the best players in the best international tournament in the world until this week, when their teammates had to carry them. Shved, a natural shooting guard playing point guard for the national team for the last year, produced another erratic performance, scoring two points in 26 minutes.
He was far better at handling the ball than he had been in the two previous games, collecting seven assists and just two turnovers, but his shooting gave a clue as to why Blatt preferred to play him at point guard. Shved made only one of his six shots, often displaying a release that puts very little rotation on the ball.
"Wherever my coach wants to put me on the court, I play there," Shved said. "This is like my second year I play point guard. I like the position."
Where does he want to play for the Wolves? "I don't care," he said. "If coach wants me at point guard, if he wants me at shooting guard, whatever is best for the team is what I'll do."
Shved first mentioned Kirilenko's injury. Kirilenko brushed off questions about it. "It's nothing," he said. "I'll be fine."
Kirilenko, 31, said he wasn't sure whether he would try to play in the 2016 Olympics.
The game started after reports broke that the Lakers had traded center Andrew Bynum for Orlando star center Dwight Howard. Spanish star Pau Gasol had been rumored to be included in the deal, and he was relieved to be staying with a Lakers team that now features him, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Howard.
"I'm very excited about the team we have now and our chances," Gasol said. "There are a lot of emotions nowadays. Playing in the Olympics, being in this moment with my team, and then exciting news from back home in L.A."