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U.S. men’s basketball team loses again for worst-ever tourney result

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The U.S. men’s basketball team lost for the second straight day at the FIBA World Cup, ensuring its worst-ever major international tournament result. It will be seventh or eighth place.

The Americans, whose 58-game, 13-year tournament win streak with NBA players was snapped by France on Wednesday, suffered another defeat in a consolation-round game Thursday in China.

Serbia dumped the U.S. 94-89 in a rematch of the Rio Olympic final. Serbia led 32-7 after the first quarter. A full box score is here.

Serbia advances to a fifth-place game on Saturday. The U.S. plays for seventh place on Saturday.

“There’s no regrets from our group in terms of what we’ve given, what we’ve sacrificed, the commitment everyone has made,” said Harrison Barnes, the lone player on the U.S. team with Olympic experience. “For some of us, potentially all of us, it could be the last time we wear a USA jersey.”

MORE: Colangelo says he will remember World Cup no-shows

The U.S. earned medals at all 18 Olympics it entered, including 15 golds. At worlds, the U.S. earned medals all but three times. Its worst previous finish was sixth in 2002, when it hosted in Indianapolis.

The U.S. qualified for the Olympics this week, before suffering its losses to France and Serbia. The Tokyo 2020 team should look very different from this World Cup team, save new head coach Gregg Popovich returning.

The U.S. roster at the World Cup includes two 2019 NBA All-Stars, Kemba Walker and Khris Middleton. It is typical for World Cup rosters to be less star-studded than for the Olympics.

Given how respected Popovich is, expect superstars to sign up for next summer. Perhaps LeBron James and Stephen Curry, who were among the big names to withdraw from Rio Olympic consideration in Mike Krzyzewski‘s third and final Olympics at the helm.

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Argentina upsets Olympic silver medalist Serbia in FIBA World Cup quarterfinals

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The glory days of the Golden Generation are now more than a decade in the rearview, but El Alma Argentina can still play at the highest level.

Argentina knocked out Olympic and world silver medalist Serbia 97-87 in the FIBA World Cup quarterfinals in China on Tuesday, advancing to a Friday semifinal against Wednesday’s U.S.-France winner.

Longtime NBA forward Luis Scola is the only man on Argentina’s roster who was part of its past Olympic and world success — the biggest being an Olympic gold in 2004, the only time the U.S. hasn’t taken the title in the Dream Team era.

Argentina declined in the previous Olympic cycle, exiting the 2014 World Cup in the round of 16 and the Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals (to the U.S., after losing twice in group play). Stalwarts Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni retired from the national team. Carlos Delfino hasn’t played for it since, either.

Scola, a 39-year-old who could become the second-oldest Olympic basketball player in history next year, starred on Tuesday with 20 points. Argentina shot 54 percent overall, compared to 42 percent for Serbia. Point guard Facundo Campazzo had 18 points, 12 assists and six rebounds. A full box score is here.

“Campazzo absolutely dominating the game,” Serbian coach Aleksandar Đordevic said. “This is really his victory. Scola is their emotional leader and maybe one of the biggest legends of all times in basketball, and he really picked up their winning ability.”

MInutes after, Scola had already become frustrated with media declaring it an upset.

“It just bothers me that people keep talking about miracle and keep talking about surprise, keep talking about, people, nobody believing,” Scola said in the mixed zone. “I tell you, there was 22 people that believed from the last two months that we were going to be here. That’s all we need. Just 22. We’ve got them, and we believe this is far from a miracle.”

Scola now plays in the Chinese league. Nobody on the team plays in the NBA, making it the first Olympic or World Cup semifinalist without an NBA player since Greece in 2006. In fact, last season was the first in the league without any Argentine players seeing a minute of game action since 2001-02.

The Serbians, paced by Denver Nuggets All-Star Nikola Jokić, could now be relegated to a last-chance qualifying tournament next year to get into the Tokyo Olympics.

“I want to apologize to our people, our country, who believe in us,” Sacramento Kings forward Nemanja Bjelica said. “Maybe we were a better team than Argentina, but they showed us and they wanted this victory more than us.

“We weren’t ready for this game, mentally. … I played like s—.”

Surprising, given they were the world’s second-best team in the last Olympic cycle. Serbia overcame 2-3 group-play records at both the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics to reach finals against the U.S., where they were soundly beaten by a combined 67 points. It’s no secret this U.S. roster lacks superstars. Serbia’s outlook became even brighter when the Americans eked out a one-point overtime win over 17th-ranked Turkey last week.

Now, Serbia must hope that the U.S. beats France and that Australia beats the Czech Republic in Wednesday’s quarters.

In that scenario, the consolation-round games will determine an Olympic qualifier out of Europe among Serbia, France, the Czech Republic and Poland, which lost to Spain in Tuesday’s later quarterfinal.

“You can see through [Bjelica’s] words what kind of mental pressure these guys were through all this tournament and before,” Dordevic said. “It was euphoria in our country. Everybody followed us. Everybody gave us a hand. Everybody really was eager to see us play in this tournament. We became favorites just like that. Everybody was writing, not only in our papers but everywhere around the world, that we are the team. We are the ones. We will win. This and that. That kind of thing, sometimes, does not help, but on the contrary. From his saying now I understand what kind of pressure he’s been through.”

Argentina already qualified for Tokyo as one of the top two Americas teams at the World Cup, along with the U.S. Now it eyes its first global medal since 2008.

“We are not big. We are not athletic. So we need to play really smart.” coach Sergio Hernandez said. “[Scola] is the man. We follow him.”

MORE: FIBA World Cup schedule, results

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Michael Phelps: To a naked eye, Milorad Cavic won — 10th anniversary of Beijing butterfly

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So many onlookers thought Milorad Cavic beat Michael Phelps in the Beijing Olympic 100m butterfly. Even Phelps himself.

“To a naked eye, he won the race,” Phelps said in an Omega documentary first published in 2016.

The 10th anniversary of that final — which Phelps won by .01 on a come-from-behind, half-stroke finish — is Wednesday night in the U.S./Thursday morning in China.

It marked Phelps’ seventh gold medal of those Games en route to his final tally of eight, breaking Mark Spitz‘s record for golds at a single Games. But it wasn’t without a little controversy.

Years later, Cavic jabbed again about the results that his Serbian federation unsuccessfully protested in Beijing.

“I don’t necessarily feel like it was an injustice,” the Serbian said in the 2016 film. “Mistakes were made on my side. There were things that I could have done better which would have made it a definite victory for myself, but my gut instinct is that I won.”

Cavic was arguably the favorite on the morning of the final. He broke the Olympic record in the preliminary heats, then was again faster than Phelps in the semifinals, when Phelps was coming off a 200m individual medley final.

After the semifinal, Phelps remembered walking down a Water Cube back hallway with coach Bob Bowman after the 15th of 17 total races.

“I said, ‘I’m done. I don’t have any more energy left. I’m cashed,'” Phelps said. “To put it bluntly, [Bowman] said tough s—. You’ve got a couple races to go, and you can suck it up.”

But Phelps was fired up by Cavic’s comments before the race, that it would be good for the sport if Phelps lost in Beijing. He woke up that morning and was on the starting block in lane five, right next to Cavic looking at him in lane four.

“What does a man do when the devil smiles at him? You smile back,” Cavic said. “It was a religious moment for me because I knew I was destined for this day.”

The race went out as expected, with Cavic leading at 50 meters and Phelps in seventh at the turn.

“I watched the NBC coverage of it, and [analyst] Rowdy [Gaines] was pretty much saying that I’m fighting for a silver medal,” Phelps said. “I knew [Cavic] always struggles the last 15 meters. That’s kind of my chance.”

In the last strokes, Phelps felt Cavic’s splash more and more into his own face. He was inching closer and closer. Then that last stroke. Cavic came up a bit short and glided into the wall. Phelps was even shorter, so he took one more partial stroke, slamming his fingers into the wall.

“If I were to take another full stroke, my arms would actually be at the halfway point of my stroke, with my face hitting the wall,” Cavic said. “He knew that he was behind me, and he knew that if he also had a long finish as I did, he would have lost. So his only option was to take another stroke but make it a half-stroke. It’s not textbook. It’s not something any coach ever wants to you to do.”

Phelps said that when he took the last half-stroke rather than a perfect finish, he thought that had cost him the gold. Each man turned around and stared at the scoreboard.

“The lack of oxygen in your body and in your head, it makes things very, very blurry for your eyes,” Cavic said. “It takes a couple of moments just for everything to clear up.”

“I looked back, and I saw one one-hundredth,” Phelps said, “and I was like, holy s—, that just happened.”

As for the Serbian protest and Cavic’s doubts?

“Well, the results don’t lie,” Phelps said. “That’s all I got to say. … Seeing the [Sports Illustrated] frame-by-frame and watching it in slow-mo, there’s no question in my mind that I won the race.”

That silver was Cavic’s one and only Olympic medal in four Games.

“I will be remembered,” he said. “It was the best and worst thing that happened to me.”

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