LONDON - Russia's stunning comeback victory over Spain and the United States' stunningly close victory over Lithuania on Saturday created a couple of delicious potential story lines, one local, one international.
Russia has won Group B, meaning it won't have to face the Americans in the semifinals. If Russia and the United States meet, it will be in the gold medal game.
For Minnesotan basketball fans, that would mean three Timberwolves in the Olympic final: Kevin Love of the U.S. and Alexey Shved and Andrei Kirilenko of Russia.
For international basketball fans, that would mean a rematch of Russia and the U.S. 40 years after Russia's controversial victory in Munich.
"Hey, right now it's a little bit different time," Kirilenko said. "That was like Communist time, Cold War. Right now everybody's already playing together, as teammates. You have Russians playing in America, Americans playing in Russia, so it doesn't really get into politics much. But I would love to play the Americans in the finals for the gold medal."
What did he think of the 1972 game?
"What do you want me to say?'' he said, laughing. "I loved the win in '72.''
Russia trailed by 18 early and rallied to win 77-74 on Saturday. Kirilenko and Shved offered their first poor performances of the Olympics. Kirilenko had eight points and eight rebounds in 35 minutes. Shved, looking tired and overwhelmed, had zero points and zero assists in seven minutes.
The Americans were coming off a record-setting 83-point victory over Nigeria, and facing a 1-2 Lithuania team, but it took a fourth-quarter lead and was within one point with 4:10 left before LeBron James hit a three-pointer, dunked on a fast break and hit a spinning layup to give the U.S. a 99-94 victory.
"I know a lot of people have a lot to say about him in the fourth quarter, but he made big plays down the stretch," Love said. "Coming off the NBA Finals, he's the most unstoppable player in the world.''
Love wasn't bad, either. He contributed seven points and a game-high eight rebounds in 12 minutes, and even dived to the floor to rip a loose ball from three opponents. His only regret was missing two sets of free throws.
"I can't remember ever doing that in my career,'' he said.
Watching Shved and Kirilenko has given Love renewed optimism about his Wolves career.
"I've met AK before, and now it's on a more personal level," Love said. "I just got to see him after they beat Spain. I'm looking forward to being teammates with him and Shved, and from here on out the Timberwolves are going to be a much better team.''
Wolves executive David Kahn recently called Love "assistant general manager'' because of Love's complaints about the Wolves' struggles.
"Hey, he said he wanted my input on some of the decisions, and we're supposed to be in it as a family,'' Love said. "So if he wants to call me 'assistant GM,' that's fine. But I think he was just having fun with the comment. We like to have fun with each other like that.
"In the last month, we've done a great job. AK is going to bring us a lot of size, a lot of length, always seems to be playing top-notch defense, top-tier in the NBA. Shved, from what I've seen, is big and athletic and can guard multiple positions and really distribute the ball. It's going to be really infectious with him and Ricky in there."