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Spain crushes Argentina for FIBA World Cup title

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Spain won its second global title in men’s basketball and its first since 2006, downing Argentina 95-75 in the FIBA World Cup final in China on Sunday.

The Spaniards, who were eliminated from gold-medal contention at the last four Olympics by the U.S. (including in two finals), benefited from the Americans’ early exit last week. The U.S. finished seventh, its worst result ever in a major international tournament, after losses to France and Serbia.

“Whatever is going to be decided or worked out in their house is going to be theirs,” Spain coach Sergio Scariolo said. “But it’s an honor to be above them in the final ranking. I’m expecting them so strong next year.”

But Spain had its own challenge. Its stalwart, Pau Gasol, missed the World Cup due to left foot surgery (and wrote a motivational, thank-you letter to the team before the final). Other veterans from those Olympic silver-medal teams, including Jose Calderon and Juan Carlos Navarro, have moved on.

“It’s just amazing how the whole tournament has been us as a team,” guard Ricky Rubio said. “You can tell, we weren’t the most talented team. We weren’t the bigger team. … We were the team who has the big heart.”

This team, led by all-tournament players Marc Gasol and Rubio, played a turn-back-the-clock final against Argentina, which has one player left from its Golden Generation — 39-year-old Luis Scola.

Both Scola and Argentina’s other go-to man, point guard Facundo Campazzo, were stymied into a combined 3-of-21 shooting.

A full box score is here.

Now Spain will go to Tokyo seeking a first Olympic title after silver or bronze medals at the last three Games. Can a Spanish team, hopefully with Pau Gasol back, take on what will be a U.S. roster with the NBA superstars it lacked in China? Marc Gasol said he wasn’t sure if the brothers will be in Tokyo.

“At this point of the career, you don’t know,” he said. “You want to be there. You hope to be there. But you don’t make any promises.”

Earlier Sunday, France beat Australia 67-59 in the third-place game, denying the Aussies their first Olympic or world medal.

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Gregg Popovich: It’s arrogant to blame U.S. for not winning gold

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Head coach Gregg Popovich called it arrogant and immature for people to blame the U.S. for not winning the FIBA World Cup, speaking after the Americans won their last consolation game to finish seventh overall — their worst international tournament result ever.

“Some people want to play the blame game,” Popovich said. “There’s no blame to be placed anywhere … like we should be ashamed because we didn’t win a gold medal? That’s a ridiculous attitude. It’s immature. It’s arrogant, and it shows that whoever thinks that doesn’t respect all the other teams in the world.”

The U.S. wrapped up play by beating Poland 87-74 after losing to France in the quarterfinals and Serbia in its first consolation game. Argentina and Spain play for the championship Sunday.

“It’s not written in stone that the United States is supposed to walk to a championship,” said Popovich, whose team with no NBA superstars lost three times total in the last month, ending a 13-year win streak for U.S. rosters with NBA players. “That’s pretty old-school thinking. Even the teams that have won in the past had a lot of close calls against several teams. It’s never been a cake walk. It’s not like the Dream Team.

“I’m not sure what satisfaction there is in beating everybody by 30, as in the past, way back. I don’t see the joy or the glory or the satisfaction in any of that.”

Popovich, the San Antonio Spurs coach who succeeded Mike Krzyzewski at the helm of Team USA after five straight Olympic or world titles, said he didn’t fault any of the dozens of NBA stars who withdrew from World Cup roster consideration this spring and summer.

“Everybody’s got a life,” he said. “This group, as I said, I couldn’t have been happier with any other group.”

The group included two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes). It’s possible the Tokyo Olympic roster could be 12 different players.

“What does USA Basketball have to do?” Popovich said. “Keep going. We coach, and they play, and we do our best. That’s what USA Basketball does. It’s not like something has to be changed.

“Some of these guys [from other countries] have played together, running the same stuff for eight, nine, 10 years. … This [U.S.] group would just continue to improve, without a doubt. I think it’s hard to argue with having just gotten together and never having played with each other before. They came a long way.”

NBC Olympics senior researcher Rachel Thompson contributed to this report from China.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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U.S. finishes FIBA World Cup in seventh place

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In one sense, the U.S. men’s basketball team finished the FIBA World Cup how it had hoped — with a victory. It just didn’t envision that coming in the seventh-place game.

The U.S. beat Poland 87-74 to cap its worst-ever tournament result in China on Saturday. Previously, the U.S.’ worst performance was sixth at the 2002 Worlds at home in Indianapolis.

The Americans rebounded from back-to-back losses against France in the quarterfinals and Serbia in the consolation round to take out Poland, which sent a team to an Olympics or a worlds for the first time since 1980.

Donovan Mitchell, one of the most consistent Americans in the tournament, had a team-high 16 points and 10 assists. Kemba Walker, the team’s most recognizable player, sat out with a sore neck. A full box score is here.

It’s possible next year’s 12-man roster looks completely different at the Tokyo Olympics given the World Cup included two 2019 NBA All-Stars (Walker and Khris Middleton) and one player with Olympic experience (Harrison Barnes).

If nobody drops out, the U.S. player pool would include LeBron JamesStephen CurryKevin DurantJames HardenRussell WestbrookKawhi Leonard, Paul George and Anthony Davis.

“For some of us, potentially all of us, it could be the last time we wear a USA jersey,” Barnes said after the loss to Serbia on Thursday.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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