After 39 minutes and 54 seconds of nip-and-tuck basketball, just two points separated Russia and Brazil. Brazilian starting point guard Marcelinho Huertas sat most of the fourth quarter while Chicago-born backup Larry Taylor put pipe-bursting pressure on the Russian backcourt, but in the final minute, Huertas — on a headlong rush out of bounds — somehow snuck a righty layup just under the outstretched arm of 6-foot-9 forward Victor Khryapa with just enough English to spin it off the glass and in for a 74-72 lead.
That's it; that was the difference. A bit of magic, conjured from the ether. With 6.1 seconds left on the clock, Russia coach David Blatt empowered shooting guard Vitaly Fridzon to conjure some of his own.
"The coach told me if I was open to shoot it," Fridzon said after Tuesday's game, according to Yahoo!'s own Adrian Wojnarowski.
[ Video: Tunisian men's basketball coach slaps player ]
Thanks to a screen from teammate Sasha Kaun, Fridzon was open when point guard Alexey Shved inbounded the ball, so shoot he did. And ... well, we'd love to show it to you here, but we can't, so you should go check it out for yourself.
With flailing Brazilian defender Leandro Barbosa rolling on the floor beneath him and taking his legs out — no whistle, natch — Fridzon drained his lone 3-point attempt of the day, a monster bucket that put Russia up one with four ticks left on the clock. Barbosa's mad-dash attempt to answer went wide right down the other end and Russia held on for a thrilling 75-74 win that Brian Mahoney of the Associated Press quite rightly called "the best game of the tournament thus far."
Fridzon, a 6-foot-5-inch combo guard who plays professionally for Khimki Moscow, finished with six points on 2-of-3 shooting, four assists and three rebounds in 19 minutes of game time. Star forward Andrei Kirilenko, the tournament's leading scorer entering play Thursday, led all scorers with 19 points (14 of which came in the second quarter) and four rebounds in 37 minutes. Exciting young Russian point guard Shved — who hit a huge 3-pointer to tie the game at 72 before Huertas made his diving scoop to give Brazil the lead — added 17 points and six assists, but he also struggled with Brazil's pressure defense a bit, committing six turnovers in 30 minutes.
Reserve center Timofey Mozgov, who plays stateside with the NBA's Denver Nuggets, added 18 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Russia. Guards Barbosa (16 points) and Taylor (12 points) paced Brazil.
The game-winning triple sent Russia out of the Basketball Arena with a 3-0 record, tops in Group B, while dropping Brazil down to 2-1. Spain, which tipped its game against host nation Great Britain at 3 p.m. ET, will either join Russia in a tie atop the group or match Brazil for second. The top four teams in each group of the competition at the end of pool play head on to the single-elimination quarterfinal portion of the tournament.
Now, all that housekeeping taken care of: What a freakin' shot. Maybe not quite "Belinda Snell against France" good but still, not bad for a guy, I guess.
Hat-tip to TBJ on the vid.
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