Article

FIBA World Cup 2019: Popovich blasts critics after USA finish seventh, Serbia take fifth

September 14 2019 2:55 PM

Gregg Popovich defended Team USA and hit out at a "ridiculous" lack of respect for other nations at the FIBA World Cup after the reigning champions ended their campaign with an 87-74 victory over Poland.

A significantly weakened US squad - missing a host of star names but still packed with NBA experience - saw their title defence ended by France at the quarter-final stage earlier this week, before also losing to Serbia.

That meant Saturday's triumph at Beijing's Wukesong Sport Arena, in which Donovan Mitchell starred with 16 points and 10 assists, was only enough to secure seventh place for the country that won gold at each of the last two World Cups.

Popovich nevertheless said he was proud of his players' efforts as he firmly rejected some of the criticism that has come the USA's way.

"Some people want to play the blame game, there's no blame to be placed anywhere," the veteran head coach was quoted as saying by ESPN. "They want to play the shame game, 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 and doesn't respect that these guys did the best they could.

"Their effort was fantastic. You give people credit for what they did, and that's it. But it's not a blame and shame game, that's ridiculous."

Mitchell was one of five players to put up a double-figure points tally in the USA's final game, along with Joe Harris (14), Khris Middleton (13), Derrick White (12) and Harrison Barnes (10). Middleton also contributed six rebounds and half a dozen assists.

Poland, playing their first World Cup since 1967, were paced by Mateusz Ponitka (18 points), Adam Waczynski (17) and A.J. Slaughter (15).

The outcome was decided early, as Team USA broke open a tight game with a 10-0 run to close out the first quarter for a 28-14 lead.

They led 47-30 at half-time, aided by Poland's inability to hit from three-point range. The underdogs missed their first 13 shots from behind the arc before finally getting one to fall with a minute and 28 seconds to play before the interval.

Poland did rally in the second half, getting as close as seven points with four minutes and seven seconds left in the third quarter, but the Americans responded with a 9-2 run and ran out comfortable winners.

Serbia secured fifth spot with a 90-81 victory over Czech Republic later in the day, Bogdan Bogdanovic the star of the show with 31 points.

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