Serbia talked big (“If we meet, may God help them“) then celebrated little.
This is how far Team USA has fallen.
The United States’ 94-89 loss to Serbia on Thursday ensures the Americans will finish seventh or eighth in the 2019 FIBA World Cup – their worst-ever finish in a major event. Their previous low was sixth in the 2002 World Championship.
Team USA will face the Czech Republic-Poland loser Saturday in the seventh/eighth-place game. The consolation end of the consolation bracket will provide no consolation. USA Basketball operates on a gold-or-bust standard, and this edition fell way short.
At least the Americans prevented greater embarrassment by making Thursday’s final score respectable. They fell behind by 25 points in the first quarter, appearing listless and heading toward a historically lopsided loss.
Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic (28 points, shooting 7-of-14 on 3-pointers and 3-of-3 on 3-pointers) starred for Serbia. Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (nine points, seven assists and no turnovers) dictated the game at his own pace.
This matchup was highly anticipated – just not here. Team USA and Serbia were expected to be top medal contenders. Instead, both fell in the quarterfinals.
Though facing major questions going forward, the United States still qualified for the 2020 Olympics as a top-two World Cup finisher among teams from the Americas. (Semifinalist Argentina is the other.) In a much deeper Europe, Serbia – which will finish fifth or sixth – didn’t crack that region’s top two.
Europe produced four teams in the top six – semifinalists Spain and France plus Serbia and the Czech Republic-Poland winner. The Americas’ third team was 13th-place Brazil. Another five European teams also finish ahead of Brazil – Czech Republic-Poland loser, Lithuania, Italy, Greece and Russia.
So, Team USA took the far easier route into the 2020 Games. The Americans didn’t even have to beat Serbia, which must secure one of four remaining spots in a qualifying tournament next year.
A rematch in Tokyo is far from assured. But a sequel between these potential-powerhouse teams could hold far more significance than Thursday’s game.
It’d be hard to hold less.