Nobody was expecting Serbia to be here.
They had to beat Italy in the seventh place game at EuroBasket last summer to even qualify for this summer’s World Cup. When they got to Spain this summer in pool play where they were a pedestrian 2-3 and not looking like a team to fear.
Now they are in the gold medal game. Sometimes what matters is getting hot at the right time.
Friday in the other World Cup semi-final Serbia raced out to a huge lead behind guard Milos Teodosic, who finished with 24 points and was a game high +25, then held off a Nicolas Batum-led French charge (the Trail Blazer had 35 points).
Serbia hit their free throws down the stretch and picked up a 90-85 win to advance to the gold medal game Sunday against Team USA (3 p.m. ET on ESPN).
Serbia will be overmatched and a huge underdog against the USA in that game, but they do a couple of things that could give the Americans trouble.
That all starts with Teodosic on the pick-and-roll (he’s good and long resisted NBA overtures). He is a crafty, smart point guard who can read how the team plays the high pick — Serbia has the big roll hard to the rim and spreads the court with three shooters — then he can pull up and knock down the shot or make the smart pass.
France didn’t know how to handle him. Against Spain in their previous game France’s pick-and-roll coverage was spot on, with bigs showing and recovering with precision. That defense held Spain to 52 points —Teodosic and Serbia were scoring at will early.
Serbia went on a 10-0 first quarter run to go up 20-10 early and from their they kept stretching the lead out. Serbia’s guards were making plays and shots, plus they as a team were getting out and running. Serbia was up 14 at the half and held a double digit lead through the third, seeming to coast in for the win.
Then France got hot on offense.
The French offense had been pedestrian most of this World Cup — they miss Tony Parker — but behind Batum hitting every ridiculous shot you can think of, they closed the gap slowly but surely. He got help from the Spurs’ Boris Diaw (13 points) and the Magic’s Evan Fournier (10).
Still, it felt like Serbia’s big man Miroslav Raduljica (last season of the Bucks) fumbled a post entry pass right up into the basket.
The French would not quit and were down 3 and had the ball with 17.7 seconds left — and Serbia fouled to prevent the three. In the NBA there is a debate about fouling late up three, in Europe they do it early and often. It worked, the French guard missed his second free throw, then it became a free throw game that Serbia won.
It’s an amazing result for Serbia, it’s been a great run. They should be proud of the silver medal they will go home with.