As the U.S. burst out to a 24-7 lead seven minutes into the first quarter, it looked like the United States would cruise to yet another Olympic rout. Instead, a wide-open Serbian missed three-pointer would be all that stood between the two teams and an overtime period.
Sloppy play and fouls slowed the United States in the waning minutes of the first quarter and carried over into the second. Even trailing by such a large margin, Serbia refused to fold and chipped away at the U.S. lead until it was cut to just nine by the end of the first half.
They inched even closer in the third quarter, shrinking the U.S. lead to five midway through the quarter. Suddenly, what seemed like it would be won in a runaway was anything but.
Milos Teodosic was brilliant as his three-point potency opened up a penetration and kick opportunities all over the floor. He orchestrated the dogged Serbian attack all night and tallying 18 points and six assists.
Turnovers plagued the U.S. in the third and allowed Serbia to stay within reach. They gave the ball away five times in the quarter.
Nikola Jokic, who had been quiet in the first three games of the Olympics, finally made his presence felt. Jokic and Miroslav Raduljica helmed a front line that took it to the Americans. Jokic led Serbia in scoring, netting 25 points, including two three-pointers, to go along with six rebounds and three assists. Raduljica scored 18.
After the hot start, the U.S. could just not get into a rhythm on offense. Every U.S. run was halted with a Serbian timeout or foul, followed by a big basket from Serbia.
The U.S. offense opened up a bit when Raduljica fouled out with six minutes remaining in the final frame. Again it was Carmelo Anthony who bailed the U.S. out when they needed offense in crunch time. Anthony scored four points in the final three minutes, answering every big Serbian shot with a bucket of his own.
Still, Serbia trailed by just three points in the final seconds. As the U.S. scrambled for a loose ball off an inbounds pass, they left open the best Serbian three-point shooter, Bogdan Bogdanovic, whose game-tying attempt rimmed out, allowing the U.S. to escape with a too-close-for-comfort 94-91 victory.
Kyrie Irving paced the United States with 15 points, with Anthony, Kevin Durant, and Paul George each adding 12. For the best player in the tournament, Durant’s presence felt absent for stretches for the second game in a row.
With the win, the U.S. clinched the top spot in Group A, meaning they will face the fourth seed out of Group B in the quarterfinals. They play their final game of the preliminaries on Sunday against France.
Serbia, now 1-3, sits in fourth place in the group. They’ll play China in their final game of the group phase.