MADRID (Reuters) - The United States romped to their fifth basketball World Cup title after overcoming an early deficit to overwhelm the tournament’s surprise package Serbia 129-92 in a one-sided final on Sunday.
An athletic U.S. team, missing top NBA players such as LeBron James and Kevin Durant, finished the tournament in grand style with a 9-0 record to retain the title they won in Istanbul in 2010.
Serbia made a bright start and took a 15-7 lead in the opening few minutes but that was as good as it got for them after U.S. captain James Harden instigated a 15-0 run which put the champions in the driving seat.
The Americans nailed 11 of 16 three-pointers in the first half and took a 67-41 lead into the locker room as playmaker Kyrie Irving also found his range, while centers DeMarcus Cousins and Kenneth Faried dominated the boards.
Irving scored 18 of his game-high 26 points in the opening two quarters, when his team mates stifled out Serbia playmaker Milos Teodosic at the other end of the court.
“Those first five minutes really knocked us back tonight and then the whole team gelled,” U.S. coach Mike Kryzewski told a news conference.
”Obviously Kyrie and James (Harden) were amazing but this has been a great group to work with and I am proud of them.
“This is as good for me as anything, national championships and the Olympics. This group and what they did was very special for me.”
The Serbs, who reached the final with three upset wins in the knockout stages, fought hard to keep the score respectable in the second half but had no reply for either lethal long-range shooting or superior rebounding by the United States.
The Balkan nation will have had no regrets though after securing their first World Cup podium finish as an independent nation, having also won the 2009 European championship silver medal.
Thousands of Serb fans watched the game on giant video screens in the capital Belgrade and other cities while many of them paraded in the streets with national flags after the game despite heavy rainfall and a thumping loss.
“I am so proud of my players and so honored to have been their coach for these two months,” Serbia coach Aleksandar Djordjevic said.
”I want to thank them for their effort, professionalism and most of all their heart.
“We have to congratulate the U.S. team as they were the best team in this competition. They deserved this gold medal and they really (played us off the court) tonight.”
The relentless Harden added 23 points for the U.S. who had a total of eight players in double digits, while forwards Nemanja Bjelica and Nikola Kalinic stood out for Serbia with 18 points each.
European champions France won the bronze medal with a dramatic 95-93 win over Lithuania on Saturday.
Writing by Zoran Milosavljevic; editing by Martyn Herman