Russia's basketball team has one NBA player, Andrei Kirilenko, a 31-year-old forward whose best days are behind him. At least statistically speaking, that is. In fact, what would be one of the proudest moments of his life may be just around the corner if he keeps up his play.
Kirilenko isn't the only guy to mention when you talk about Russia's rise to the top of the Group B standings with a 4-0 record after recently knocking off favorite Spain. He is worth mentioning, though, as the most recognizable player on Russia's squad.
With Kirilenko being a guy who has seen his NBA averages in almost every category drop year after year lately, it didn't give basketball fans outside of Russia and chance to believe the Russians had a shot to do anything special in these 2012 Olympics.
That's just what they're doing, though.
How special was their 77-74 win over (at the time) fellow unbeaten, Spain? Considering Russia opened the game by allowing Spain to run off to a 20-2 lead, just to take the lead for themselves by halftime, just to fall back down by another nine points in the second half, it was quite a feat.
Kirilenko is certainly doing his share of the load, shooting 68 percent on his way to averaging 19.5 points per game which is good for seventh in the Olympics. He's also fourth in fouls drawn with 5.8 per game. He's getting his opponent's big men in foul trouble, which is extra important when you foul out at five fouls in the Olympic format, and he's playing tougher than we thought he would or could.
That goes for the whole Russian basketball team, which ranks third in assists out of all the nations competing. In the statement game against Spain they saw guard Vitaliy Fridzon light it up for 24 points and backcourt mate Anton Ponkrashov notch a double-double with 14 points and 11 assists.
This was when the tournament's early scoring leader, Kirilenko, was held to just eight points by the size of Spain's Marc and Pau Gasol.
After initially steamrolling through China and Great Britain, Russia squeaked by favored Brazil, which brought them to their most recent matchup with Spain.
After the roller-coaster of a game against Spain, where they repeatedly showed an unwillingness to give up, they find themselves as the only unbeaten team besides the United States with eight points through four games.
Their next game is against Australia, who is 1-2 up to this point and should not pose too much of a threat to Russia if coach David Blatt can keep them at their current level of play. A fifth win in group play would set them up with a very fortunate position in the elimination stage of the competition.
There's a lot of basketball left to be played before gold, silver and bronze medals are handed out, but Russia has positioned themselves to be a major player down to the end with their play thus far.
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