Team USA basketball surprisingly faced its toughest challenge yet– a Serbian team led by 6-10, 250-pound Nikola Jokic.
The U.S. started the game on a 9-0 run before Jokic, who is currently a center for the Denver Nuggets, cruised in for a dunk to put Serbia on the scoreboard early in the first quarter. USA’s 23-5 lead in the first quarter was its biggest lead of the game. The U.S. ended the quarter with a 12-point lead.
Nemanja Nedovic, the No. 30 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, hit a three in the beginning of the second quarter to cut Serbia’s deficit to single digits. It was a back-and-forth quarter as Serbia held its ground, heading into the locker room down 50-41. Kyrie Irving had a team-high 11 points for USA at halftime.
Led by former Milwaukee Bucks center Miroslav Raduljica and Euroleague champion Milos Teodosic, Serbia was able to cut the lead to five midway through the third quarter. Although Serbia outscored USA 22-21 in the third, USA took a 72-62 lead into the fourth.
Jokic knocked in a three-pointer at the beginning of the fourth, cutting USA’s lead to seven. Jokic hit another three-pointer with just over three minutes to make it 90-85. Teodosic knocked down a pair of free-throws down the stretch, making it 94-91.
The U.S. failed to score on two straight possessions in the final minute, giving Serbia a chance to tie the game. On Serbia’s final possession, Teodosic was able to shake free from U.S. defenders before finding Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic got an open look and launched the three-pointer but it was off the mark. USA walked away with a 94-91 victory.
Jokic had a game-high 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting to go along with six rebounds. Teodosic scored 18 points and dished out six assists. Raduljica added 18 points to Serbia’s total. Bogdanovic, a former first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, had seven points in the loss.
Irving led the U.S. in scoring with 15 points. Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George had 12 points apiece. Deandre Jordan and DeMar DeRozan both came off the bench to score 13 and 11 points, respectively. Klay Thompson, who has been struggling with his shot in Rio, had just three points on 1-of-6 shooting.
USA won its first two contests in Rio by a combined 100 points. Against Australia and Serbia, USA only won by a combined 13 points.