Beaten like a drum, 129-92, in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup Final by the USA, the Serbians this time charged back from an early 27-9 deficit and had an attempt from the three-point line to tie it at the buzzer but Bogdan Bogdanovic only drew iron, hitting the front of the rim, and the two-time defending Olympic champions held on for a 94-91 win.
The Americans will still be favorites to reach the top of the podium, but it’s not going to be a romp as it was two years ago in Madrid.
The USA have now been pushed very hard in their last two games.Australia were neck-and-neck with them on Wednesday for most of the contest before falling late, 98-88, and now they have beaten Serbia by three and only because Sasha Djordjevic’s team missed a wide-open look from the arc.
Turning Point: The USA led 27-9 after a Jimmy Butler three-pointer and looked to be rolling towards another blowout win against Serbia. A couple of technicals late in the first quarter, one by DeAndre Jordan and the other by Draymond Green (for slamming the ball on the hardwood after being called for a foul) allowed Serbia to make free-throws and to calm down. Serbia chipped away at the deficit and cut it to single digits in the third quarter. They got very close at the end and would have forced overtime had Bogdanovic’s shot gone in.
Stats Don’t Lie: The game was close in large part because of the Serbians’ ability to rebound the ball and prevent their opponents from a lot of second-chance points. They had only 6 by the end of the third quarter. Nikola Jokic (25 points) and Miroslav Raduljica (18) combined for 43 of Serbia’s 91 points.
Hero: Kyrie Irving made plays throughout for the USA, but so did Paul George, who finished with 12 points and 9 rebounds. Jokic had his best game for Serbia and Milos Teodosic was spectacular in all aspects of the Serbian offense.
Bottom Line: Serbia have fallen to 1-3 and have yet to punch their ticket to the Quarter-Finals but will do so with a win over China. They will have as good a chance as any team of getting to the podium and perhaps having another crack at the USA. The Americans are being challenged and still winning but there are other tough teams, including France, champing at the bit to play them.