U.S., Russia Barely Avoid Cold War

SYDNEY, Australia — For the first 20 minutes, Vince Carter and the U.S. team were the ugly Americans. For the final 20 minutes Thursday, they let their basketball do the talking.

In a game with more than its share of rough stuff and trash talk, the U.S. team made it to the Olympic semifinals by defeating Russia 85-70.

Carter, after missing two dunks and taking an elbow to the gut, looked like he was trying to restart the Cold War as he went after a Russian player as the teams left the court at halftime. No punches were thrown, but there was plenty of shoving and shouting as yet another American opponent showed no fear.

The Americans quickly fell behind by 10 points and led by only five at halftime — their smallest lead at intermission in either the 1992, 1996 or 2000 Olympics. But they were never seriously challenged in the second half as they led by at least 10 points throughout the final 10 minutes.

With 85, the U.S. team had its lowest point total since the bronze medal game of 1988 — four years before NBA players started representing the United States.

Next up is a semifinal game Friday night against Lithuania, which lost to the Americans by only nine points in the preliminary round. A victory would put the U.S. team into the gold medal game Sunday against Australia or France.

Kevin Garnett scored repeatedly from inside 10 feet and led the Americans with 16 points.

Carter added 15 and Vin Baker had 13.

Alexander Bachminov led Russia with 12 points before fouling out.

Russia went ahead 12-2 on a 3-pointer by Yevgeny Pachoutin, and the United States wouldn’t catch all the way up until Ray Allen drove around Nikita Morgunov for a slam dunk that made it 22-22 with 10:09 left before halftime.

Carter didn’t find it a laughing matter in the final minute of the first half when he caught an elbow in the lower abdomen as he went up for an alley-oop dunk. He lay on the ground writhing in pain for several seconds before getting up clutching his belly.

As the first half ended, Carter went after a different Russian player than the one who had elbowed him, yelling as if he wanted to fight.

The American coaches restrained Carter, but two other U.S. players — Gary Payton and Baker — continued mixing it up with the player who had elbowed Carter, Pachoutin. Pachoutin had to be bear-hugged by one of the referees as he tried to retaliate.

Carter made a point of shaking each Russian player’s hand before the second half tip-off, and the final 20 minutes were largely free of any bad intentions.

Payton made two free throws with 15:41 left to give the U.S. team its first double-digit lead, 58-47, and Shareef Abdur-Rahim scored on a drive with 1:07 to go for the Americans’ biggest lead, 85-68.