On This Day: 1976 US Olympic basketball team dodges upset axe against Bruce Lee-led Puerto Rico

On July 21, 1976, the United States avoided the upset axe, squeaking past Puerto Rico, 95-94, in Group B of the 1976 Summer Olympics basketball competition held at the Centre Etienne Desmarteau in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Adrian Dantley had a tip-in while Phil Ford made two free throws off a controversial call in the final 35 seconds to give the Americans the narrowest of victories against Puerto Rico.

The Puerto Ricans, led by Bruce Lee of Marquette University, had led by as much as seven points with 8:40 remaining in the game.

Dantley tipped in a Quinn Buckner shot with about 33 seconds remaining in the contest while Ford was sent to the charity stripe with 18 seconds left following an offensive charge called on Lee.

Ford sank both free throws but Neftali Rivera came right back with a drive of his own with three seconds left to pull Puerto Rico again within one before time expired.

Lee was an American citizen but was never invited to try out for the US team. He was passed up by the Olympic selection committee in favor of three of his teammates.

He played the entire game and finished with 34 points, the most scored for either team. Lee had 20 points in the second half alone, a reason why Puerto Rico kept the Americans at bay for almost three-quarters of the final 20 minutes.

The Americans fell behind by as much as seven points, 71-78, with 8:30 remaining before unleashing an offensive barrage that eventually gave them the lead, 83-82.

At the time, the Americans were battling to regain the Olympic basketball title after losing it controversially to Russia in Munich.

The Americans went on to win against Yugoslavia, (112-93), Egypt (2-0) and Czechoslovakia (81-76) in the group stages.

In the championship bracket, the Americans won over Canada (95-77) and repeat against Yugoslavia in the gold medal game, 95-74.

Aside from Dantley, Buckner and Ford, other members of the 1976 US Olympic basketball team included Steve Shepherd, Walter Davis, Ernie Grunfeld, Kenneth Carr, Scott May, Tate Armstrong, Tom LaGarde, Philip Hubbard and Mitch Kupchak.

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