Deposed champions the United States lost 94-89 to Serbia in a dead-rubber at the Basketball World Cup on Thursday, a day after surrendering their 13-year unbeaten run.
A young Team USA made up of second-tier NBA stars were defeated 89-79 in the quarter-finals by France on Wednesday, bringing a premature close to their World Cup defence.
More significantly, it was the reigning world and Olympic champions’ first defeat in a major competition since the semi-finals of the 2006 World Cup.
Thursday’s “classification” game in Dongguan was the final that never was: the holders against the favourites.
The US were headed for a humiliating second loss in as many days, down a scarcely believable 32-7 after the first quarter.
The Americans, who have already qualified for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics, failed to score a point during one barren five-minute period.
A rout was on the cards for Serbia, whose tournament also came to a surprise quarter-final end, at the hands of Argentina.
The Americans’ 70-year-old coach Gregg Popovich chewed his lip and brooded.
But the US fought back in the second quarter and reduced the deficit to just four points at half-time.
Going into the fourth quarter, Serbia – led once more by the Sacramento Kings’ Bogdan Bogdanovic – were only three points ahead.
But with nothing but pride to play for, the US comeback fell narrowly short. They have another classification match on Saturday.
Bogdanovic, who has been one of the players of the tournament, led all scoring with 28 points.
For the Americans, Harrison Barnes had 22 points.
In Friday’s semi-finals, Spain play Australia and France take on Argentina.