The U.S. came to China looking to again be the best in the world.
It’ll go home with the worst tournament showing in program history.
Such is the reality for the Americans now, assured of finishing no better than seventh at the World Cup after falling to Serbia 94-89 in a consolation game Thursday night. The previous worst finish for a U.S. men’s team in 45 tournament appearances was sixth at the 2002 world championships.
“We’ve committed to this from Day One,” U.S. guard Joe Harris said. “To get all the way to this point and just kind of have it abruptly come up short, it really stings.”
Serbia advances to the fifth-place game on Saturday (8 a.m. ET), to face the Czech Republic, while the United States will play Poland in the seventh-place game that day, too (4 a.m. ET). The Czech Republic beat Poland 94-84 in Thursday's other consolation bracket game.
The Americans -- the top-ranked team in the world -- will be seventh or eighth in China, depending on the outcome of their consolation finale Saturday. Sacramento Kings forward Harrison Barnes scored 22 for the U.S., which got 18 from Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker and 16 off the bench from Milwaukee Bucks guard Khris Middleton.
Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Kings scored 28 for Serbia, which bolted to a 25-point lead and handed the U.S. its second loss in two days. Vladimir Lucic scored 15 for Serbia, which will play for fifth place Saturday. Denver Nuggets big man Nikola Jokic showed off his usual all-around skills, finishing with nine points, three rebounds rebounds, seven assists and a pair of critical free throws with 20 seconds left to seal the win.
“It’s a really tough game to play against those guys,” Bogdanovic said. “I’m sure both teams were really upset after losing in the quarterfinals and we were just trying to make people happy.”
After the loss, center Myles Turner took to Twitter and shared his thoughts on those questioning Team USA's talent during this FIBA World Cup run.
"From 1-12 top to bottom this team this roster has sacrificed so much for our nation," Turner wrote. "Our summers, our bodies, our mental. 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 our spirit. We layed 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.
"... We’re also the ones who stepped up to the plate when others stepped down. We qualified our nation for the Olympics we got some work to do to rebuild a legacy that was left before us were on the wrong side of history indeed. But that’s gunna make the next medal that much sweeter!"
Serbia-U.S. game was widely expected to be one for gold this weekend. The prospects of that were hyped plenty going into the tournament -- especially after Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic called out the Americans in a television interview by saying “if we meet, may God help them.” But all that was on the line Thursday night were bragging rights and a few world ranking points.
“There’s no regrets from our group in terms of what we’ve given, what we’ve sacrificed, the commitment everyone’s made to be away from their families, away from their teams, away from their organizations,” Barnes said. “There’s no regrets.”
Seemingly still smarting from a loss to France in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday, Team USA was playing roughly 24 hours after that defeat. It showed early on as the Americans trailed 32-7 after the first quarter and shot 3 for 16 from the field (19%). Serbia, on the other hand, was simply sizzling, hitting 64% of its shots overall and went 8 for 9 on 3-pointers as well.
Team USA warmed up considerably in the second quarter, cutting the lead to 36-26 off a dunk by Turner with 3:39 left and had it down to 44-40 by halftime. By the end of the third quarter, they had further trimmed the lead to 71-68 thanks to solid play from Middleton, Barnes, Walker and Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell.
U.S. coach Gregg Popovich lauded his team for making the comeback, basically 24 hours after seeing its medal hopes dashed by the quarterfinal loss to France.
“I can’t tell you how much I’ve been impressed the whole time with their character, their stick-to-itiveness and their persistence as they’re learning how to play together,” Popovich said. “Tonight was a great example of that.”
The last time the U.S. dropped consecutive games at the World Cup level was '02 at the world championships in Indianapolis, losing to Argentina by seven and Yugoslavia by three. The only times the Americans lost three straight was at the 1970 world championships and at the 2005 FIBA Americas tournament.
Czech Republic 94, Poland 84
Vojtech Hruban scored 24 points, Tomas Satoransky added 22 and the Czech Republic rallied late to beat Poland 94-84 in a consolation game Thursday in Shanghai. Satoransky added 12 assists for the Czechs, who closed the game on a 20-7 run. Adam Waczynski scored 22 for Poland.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.