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DONGGUAN, China – Deposed champion the United States plummetted to its worst finish in the FIBA World Cup after losing to Serbia, 94-89, in a dead-rubber on Thursday, September 12, a day after surrendering their 13-year unbeaten run.
The loss in the classification round means the US won’t finish any higher than 7th place.
A young Team USA made up of second-tier NBA stars got defeated 89-79 in the quarterfinals by France on Wednesday, bringing a premature close to its World Cup defense.
More significantly, it was the reigning world and Olympic champions’ first defeat in a major competition since the semifinals of the 2006 World Cup.
Thursday’s classification game in Dongguan was the championship that never was: the title holders against the favorites.
Early on, though, Team USA looked headed for a humiliating second loss in as many days.
The Americans were down a scarcely believable 32-7 after the 1st 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 organizations.”
There was no medal up for grabs and the US have already qualified for next summer’s Tokyo Games.
But there was added spice 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 was still shell-shocked from the France defeat in the 1st 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 quarterfinal end, at the hands of Argentina.
The 70-year-old Popovich chewed his lip and brooded.
But the US fought back in the 2nd quarter and reduced the deficit to just 4 points at halftime.
Going into the 4th quarter, Serbia – led once more by the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic – was only 3 points ahead.
But with nothing but pride to play for, the US comeback fell narrowly short.
Bogdanovic, who has been one of the top players of the tournament, led all scoring with 28 points.
Barnes had 22 points and said that the Americans would give it their all in their tournament closer, where they will fight Poland for 7th place.
“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 savor that opportunity.”