Team USA almost lost to Serbia. In men's basketball. In 2016.
On Friday night, that seriously almost happened.
Sure, Serbia has talent. Milos Teodosic is one of the best Euro players around, and Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Jokic both play in the NBA, albeit in lesser roles.
But this one was expected to be somewhat similar to a repeat of the time the two teams met in the 2014 FIBA World Champions: a 37-point romp for the red, white, and blue.
Team USA hopped out to a 23-5 lead in the first quarter. It was pretty much what everyone expected: scared straight by a close win against Australia, Coach K's team would jump out with fire and run straight through Serbia.
Some even thought the game was over after one quarter.
Ah, but these are the 2016 Olympics, where the USWNT falls to Sweden (weird) and people swim in water filled with poop (weirder, I think). Nothing is predictable.
Serbia just refused to go away. After a few runs in either direction, USA took a 50-41 lead into halftime. Kevin Durant attempted just one field goal in the first half, and Klay Thompson continued to look lost, going bucket-less. (At halftime, Thompson had made four of 26 shots in three and a half Olympic games.)
Then came the third quarter.
...oh, were you expecting a huge run from Team USA? Nah.
Serbia hit threes on its first two possessions of the second half to cut the gap to seven. Team USA never took a lead bigger than 11 points in the second half. Serbia cut the difference to five points or fewer multiple times in the third quarter, before Team USA took it to the fourth with a 10-point lead, but even that wasn't safe.
Team USA simply couldn't put Serbia away, even with this monstrous dunk from DeAndre Jordan:
Nothing. Could stop. Serbia.
Milos Teodosic finished with 23 points, including a trio of three-pointers, at least two of which stemmed massive Team USA tides.
With 80 seconds left, Team USA led by three points. Serbia's Bogdan Bogdanovic had a wide-open, square-to-the-hoop look to tie the game with three seconds left. That's how close Serbia -- Serbia! -- was to forcing Team USA to overtime.
So, Team USA once again walked away with a win. But these Olympic qualifying rounds have proven to be a little more than just puff pastry tune-ups.
Honestly? I love it.
I'm usually bored out of my mind watching these preliminary games. I often don't make it past halftime. These close games are keeping me interested, and providing a sprinkling of schadenfreude every time they're playing a close game that even I, an American, can't help but love.