Everyone considered Serbia the strongest threat to team USA at the World Cup in China. But after what happened Sunday, it may be time for everyone to reconsider.
Spain defeated Serbia 81-69 to knock Sasha Djordjevic’s team from the ranks of the unbeaten (Nikola Jokic was ejected for picking up two technical fouls in the third quarter), and as we head into Day 2 of the Second Round, only four unbeatens remain: The United States, Argentina, Spain, France and Australia.
What’s more, the matchups for the knockout round – the quarterfinals – are beginning to become clear, and a couple of very, very good teams will be flying home unhappy on Tuesday and Wednesday.
You know, sort of the way the Americans were unhappy with the lesser Antetokounmpo after his unnecessarily hard foul on Harrison Barnes late in Team USA’s 69-53 victory over Greece nearly led to fisticuffs.
Thanasis Antetokounmpo didn’t initially apologize for the perceived cheap shot, which happened right in front of the U.S. bench.
“The [no apology] escalated it,” Marcus Smart told reporters in China. “At that moment, you’ve got to take it for what it is. Regardless of whether you feel like it was wrong or right, it was wrong.”
The Americans played their best game of the tournament in defeating the Greeks, who play the Czech Republic on Monday and need a decisive win in order to advance.
The best game on the schedule is France and Australia to decide the winner of Group L, which will play either Greece, the Czech Republic or Brazil in the knockout phase (point differential will be the tiebreaker if Greece, Brazil and the Czechs all finish with 3-2 record, which seems likely.
If USA and Czech Republic win: USA and Czech Republic qualify;
If USA and Greece win:
Greece win by up to 11 points: USA and Czech Republic qualify.
Greece win by 12 points or more: USA and Greece qualify.
As for the Americans, their next opponent (assuming they defeat Brazil) will be the loser of the France-Australia game on Wednesday in Shanghai.
Two quarterfinal matches are set: Argentina-Serbia and Spain-Poland.
In Classification Round 17-32, Nigeria and Iran booked their tickets to the 2020 Olympics with resounding wins over host China and the Philippines, respectively. Nigeria defeated host China 86-73, and Iran dominated the Philippines 95-75.
Sunday’s results ensured Nigeria and Iran would finish as the best teams from Africa and Asia, hence securing Olympic berths.
As for Team USA, they will be facing a Brazilian team with a couple of holdovers from the 2010 team that gave coach Mike Kryzyzewski one of his biggest scares during his tenure as head coach of Team USA.
It happened in Istanbul during the 2010 World Championship. Brazil trailed 70-68 with 3.5 seconds left and Marcelinho Huertas was fouled and sent to the line looking to tie the game. Huertas missed the first foul shot and then deliberately missed the second and actually grabbed his own rebound. He passed to Leandro Barbosa, who managed to get a shot off under the rim over Kevin Love that went in and out.
Barbosa is one of five Brazilians who were in that game in Turkey and are still wearing the national team jersey in China along with Huertas, Anderson Varejao, Marquinhos Sousa and Alex Garcia.
“We know that it’s a very tough matchup, a tough team. But nothing is impossible,” Barbosa said. “We still have to believe in ourselves and our team that we have one more shot to do it and be included in the top eight teams in the world. It’s going to be tough but we’re going to have to turn the page and come up really strong.”