Despite nearly blowing a 25-point first-quarter lead, Serbia defeated Team USA 94-89 in a FIBA World Cup classification game at Dongguan Basketball Center in China on Thursday.
Serbia led 32-7 after the first quarter, and while the Americans whittled the deficit down to four by halftime, they were never able to pull ahead in the loss.
After losing to France in the quarterfinals Wednesday, Team USA has now lost consecutive games in international competition with NBA players for the first time since 2002.
Sacramento Kings wing Bogdan Bogdanovic led the way for Serbia with a game-high 28 points, while Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic added nine points, seven assists and three rebounds.
Four players scored in double figures for the U.S., including Boston Celtics guard Kemba Walker, who bounced back from a miserable performance in Wednesday's loss to France to post 18 points, eight assists and four rebounds. Kings wing Harrison Barnes was the Americans' leading scorer with 22 points.
Thursday's win means Serbia will play for fifth place at the FIBA World Cup, while Team USA will be relegated to playing for seventh.
It initially looked as though the loss to France had sapped the Americans of their will to play. Serbia came out firing behind the long-range prowess of Bogdanovic:
The U.S. had no answers on either end of the floor, and its seven points marked the fewest it has ever scored in a single quarter at the FIBA World Cup.
What made Serbia's first-quarter dominance even more impressive is the fact that their best player, Jokic, opted to defer rather than chuck up shots from the paint, per Marc Stein of the New York Times:
It would have been easy for the United States to pack it in, but the players instead bore down for head coach Gregg Popovich.
The result was a 33-12 second quarter, which made the score 44-40 in favor of Serbia at halftime:
Team USA continued to chip away in the third quarter, outscoring Serbia 28-27 to enter the fourth quarter facing a three-point deficit.
Milwaukee Bucks small forward Khris Middleton, who finished with 16 points and six rebounds, showed off his two-way ability during what was a strong quarter for the Americans:
While the U.S. came close to tying the score or taking the lead on several occasions, it was never able to get over the hump.
Serbia held strong and put the Americans away in the fourth. The Serbs shot 52 percent from the field and 48 percent from deep for the game, while Team USA shot 44 percent from the floor and just 35 percent from beyond the arc.
ESPN's Jonathan Givony noted that the loss ensures Team USA will have its worst-ever finish at the World Cup:
Jonathan Givony @DraftExpress
Back to back losses to France/Serbia means USA Basketball has logged it's worst result ever in FIBA World Cup /World Championship history (no better than 7th). Hopefully this serves as a wakeup call for how much the world has caught up (no one wants to hear your roster excuses)
After winning each of the past two FIBA World Cups, the Americans can finish no better than seventh. On Saturday, they will face the loser of Poland vs. the Czech Republic to determine seventh place.
Meanwhile, Serbia will face the winner of that contest Saturday in the fifth-place game.