TORONTO -- Its previous two games were 50-point romps, contests in which members of the Dream Team II pretty much had their way against teams seemingly more than happy to oblige.
But last night at the World Championship of Basketball, the Dream Team got pretty much what it expected against Russia -- a team that just would not quit.
For a half, Russia played pretty much even against the group of NBA stars, trailing by just eight points with slim hopes of believing the impossible. But in the second half the Dream Team, behind the play of Shaquille O'Neal and Joe Dumars, wore the Russian team down in a 111-94 win before 27,000 at SkyDome.
O'Neal scored 21 points and Dumars 20 with both players doing most of their damage in the second half. It enabled Dream Team to improve to 6-0 in the tournament, going into tomorrow's
semifinal against Greece.
Taking what's considered by Dream Team standards a slim eight-point lead into the second, coach Don Nelson went with what he considers his strongest lineup, with Shawn Kemp and O'Neal up front and Dumars, Reggie Miller and Kevin Johnson as his three guards.
Still, the Russians were able to pull to within 56-51 after Mikhail Mikhailov scored on layup.
But O'Neal became too tough for Russia, which has just one player over 7 feet. O'Neal scored 11 points during a 17-6 run, with all five of his field goals during the span coming from no farther than three feet away.
O'Neal's dominance the inside freed up the Dream Team's outside shooters.
And both Dumars and Miller ended that run with three-pointers that gave the Dream Team a 73-57 lead with 12:55 left.
The Dream Team was able to maintain a double-digit lead the rest of the way against the tiring Russians, to improve their record to 6-0 going into tomorrow's semifinal game against Greece.
Russia coach Sergei Belov had said his team would not be intimidated by the Dream Team, as other teams were during the week.
And Russia played with that attitude, constantly taking the ball inside -- only to be turned away by Coleman and Kemp, the starting center and power forward in Nelson's small starting lineup.
Coleman scored seven points during the first 4:15, including a three-pointer from the top of the key. And after Johnson's layup with 15:21 left, the Dream Team had a 17-10 lead.
However, the Russian team, which recently split two games against collegians representing the United States at the Goodwill Games, got a lift from Yevgeni Kissourin, a 6-foot-9, 206-pound forward, who began scoring from the outside.
In the few times the Dream Team has faced problems during this tournament, Nelson has gotten immediate results by turning to O'Neal. Shortly after O'Neal checked in with 12:53 left last night, he scored on a short hook shot that gave the Dream Team a lead.
However, Russia scored seven straight points, taking a 25-24 lead on a three-point shot by Dmitri Domani with 10:46 left that stunned the crowd. Russia led 30-28 after Sergei Bazarevich hit a deep three-pointer with 9:36 left -- the latest that the Dream Team has trailed during the tournament.
The Dream Team responded with 10 straight points to take a 38-30 lead with 7:28 left. But the Russian team pulled back to within 39-35.
Dream Team led, 52-44, at halftime.
In the night's first game, Croatia, behind 27 points by Boston Celtics forward Dino Radja, ended its quarterfinal round with an 81-55 win over Greece.