Deposed champions the United States lost 94-89 to Serbia in a dead-rubber at the Basketball World Cup on Thursday, a day after surrendering their 13-year unbeaten run.
A young Team USA made up of second-tier NBA stars were defeated 89-79 in the quarter-finals by France on Wednesday, bringing a premature close to their World Cup defence. It’s the program’s worst ever finish.
More significantly, it was the reigning world and Olympic champions’ first defeat in a major competition since the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
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Thursday’s “classification” game in Dongguan was the final that never was: the holders against the favourites.
The US were down a scarcely believable 32-7 after the first quarter and headed for a big defeat, before clawing back some of the deficit and a degree of pride.
Harrison Barnes of the Sacramento Kings, the only remaining member of the triumphant 2016 Rio Olympic roster, said: “There are no regrets from our group in terms of what we’ve given, what we’ve sacrificed.
“The commitment everyone has made away from their families, their teams, their organisations.”
There was no medal up for grabs and the US have already qualified for next summer’s Tokyo Games.
After the game, centre Myles Turner took to Twitter to defend his team’s performance during the World Cup, amid the criticism of the side’s low finish.
“From 1-12 top to bottom this team this roster has sacrificed so much for our nation. our summers, our bodies, our mental,” he wrote. “We came up short can’t nobodies more upset than us but I refuse to tolerate any Slander for our play you cannot question our heart
“Our character, or are spirit we layed (sic) it all out on the line each and every game. Don’t disrespect us this coaching staff or USA Basketball as a whole but respect the world basketball is an international game these countries are talented.”
There was added spice in this game, after Serbia’s coach said prior to the World Cup that if the Americans met his team, “May god help them”.
Sasha Djordjevic dismissed the comment as motivational irony but said that he could see the US were still shell-shocked from the France defeat in the first quarter.
Gregg Popovich’s team failed to score a point during one barren five-minute period.
A rout was on the cards for Serbia, whose tournament also came to a surprise quarter-final end, at the hands of Argentina.
The 70-year-old Popovich chewed his lip and brooded.
But the US fought back in the second quarter and reduced the gap to just four points at half-time.
Going into the fourth quarter, Serbia — led once more by the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic — were only three points ahead.
But the US comeback fell narrowly short and they have another classification match on Saturday to decide who finishes seventh and eighth.
Bogdanovic, who has been one of the players of the tournament in China, led all scoring with 28 points.
Barnes had 22 points and said that the Americans would give it their all in their tournament closer, when they will face the loser of the Czech Republic versus Poland.
“On Saturday we have that opportunity to go out once again, play a game, represent our country,” he said.
“For some of us — potentially all of us — it could be our last time we wear a USA jersey, or the beginning of many.
“We will just savour that opportunity.” In Friday’s semi-finals, Spain play Australia and France take on Argentina.