No Nikola Jokic, no problem. Even with its best player sitting out this summer, Serbia is going to play for gold at the Basketball World Cup.
Bogdan Bogdanovic scored 23 points and Serbia defeated Canada 95-86 in the World Cup semifinals on Friday. Ognjen Dobric and Nikola Milutinov each scored 16 for Serbia, the best-shooting team so far in the tournament — making 55% of its shots coming into the day, then connecting on 62% to end Canada’s hopes of gold.
Serbia (6-1) is in the World Cup final for the second time in the last three tournaments. It lost to the U.S. in the 2014 final, and will face either the Americans or Germany on Sunday night in the title game at Manila.
RJ Barrett scored 23 for Canada (5-2), which was bidding to make the World Cup final for the first time. It’ll face the Germany-U.S. loser for the bronze on Sunday, when the Canadians will try for their most significant international medal since winning silver at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
Dillon Brooks scored 16 for Canada and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 15 — 10 below his tournament average entering the day.
Jokic decided not to play this summer after leading the Denver Nuggets to the NBA championship back in June, giving himself time to rest before the looming title defense. Serbia moved on, and then had to regroup again in this tournament after the shock of losing reserve forward Borisa Simanic after he wound up needing a kidney removed after getting elbowed in a game against South Sudan.
Come Sunday, they’ll have a medal anyway. Gold or silver, that’s the only question.
Canada started the tournament with an emphatic 95-65 win over reigning Olympic silver medalist France, and had the second-lowest odds — behind the U.S. — of winning gold. But it got into a slew of foul trouble early Friday, which kept the defense from getting on track, which in turn kept the offense from getting easy baskets.
And Serbia feasted off all of that. Serbia’s lead was 52-39 at the break, and Canada was fuming over the foul situation.
It was called for 17 fouls — including a technical late in the half on coach Jordi Fernandez — in the first 20 minutes compared to 11 for Serbia, and all five of its starters had at least two fouls by the break. Gilgeous-Alexander got his second foul with 3:27 left in the first; Serbia responded with a 9-0 run and kept the lead for the rest of the half.
Serbia led by 15 late in the half. That was the biggest deficit Canada had faced yet in this tournament; it faced 12-point deficits against Latvia and Spain, rallying to win both times.
Not this time, though.
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