Patty Mills scored 30 points for Australia, which rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half.
It was the first loss for the U.S. in a major international tournament or exhibition since the 2006 world championship semifinals against Greece. The Americans won the bronze medal game of that tournament, and then were unbeaten through the cycles for the 2007 FIBA Americas, 2008 Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
Add all that up, and it was a 78-game winning streak for the U.S. — the longest in program history.
And it’s now over.
“They wanted it more than us tonight,” U.S. guard Kemba Walker said. “Lesson learned for us.”
USA Basketball is No. 1 in FIBA’s world rankings, but so far in the run-up to this World Cup — with most of the top NBA All-Stars deciding to not play this summer — the Americans have not looked like a lock for more gold. They beat Spain by nine in Anaheim, California on Aug. 16, needed a big second half to defeat Australia by 16 on Thursday, and then let a second-half lead slip away Saturday.
“It was awesome,” Mills said.
Walker scored 22 points for the U.S., and Harrison Barnes had 20. Donovan Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 1:05 left got the U.S. within 97-94, the Americans forced a stop on the ensuing possession and had two chances to tie — but Mitchell’s 3-pointer was off, Joe Harris missed a corner 3 a few seconds later and Mills iced the game with a free throw.
Aron Baynes left the floor with his head back, screaming in celebration as he slapped hands with delirious countrymen. Andrew Bogut and Joe Ingles grabbed their kids and brought them on the floor for a look.
Bogut scored 16 points, Ingles had 15 and Baynes scored 13 for the Australians.
“Obviously, this was a great step for us,” Ingles said.
Baynes powered in for a score that put Australia up 82-76 with 8:25 remaining, just before Barnes answered with a three-point play for the U.S. to start an 8-0 run that put the Americans back on top. There were four lead changes in the final quarter, the last coming when Ingles made a step-back 3 with 3:35 left for an 88-87 lead.
Mills did the rest.
He banked in a long 3 for a four-point lead, added a layup to put his country up six with 1:50 left and clinched it with the last free throw. The U.S. led by one at the half and went up 68-58 midway through the third on a dunk by Jayson Tatum, but the Australians got right back into the game. Mills scored eight points in 45 seconds, including a pair of 3-pointers, to get Australia within one with 2:40 left in the third.
“That’s a great team and they’ve been together a long time,” Barnes said. “They play a great style of basketball.”
United States: Barnes, Marcus Smart (who had been out with a calf strain), Khris Middleton, Mitchell and Myles Turner started for the Americans. The U.S. has now used different starting lineups in its three exhibitions, with only Mitchell opening all three contests. In all, the U.S. has given nine different players at least one start on the pre-World Cup tour. … Kyle Kuzma (left ankle soreness) did not play.
Australia: Attendance was 52,079, the biggest crowd to watch a basketball game in Australia — breaking the record of 51,218 set Thursday. … The Australians went with the same starters for the second straight game, opening with Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, Mills, Baynes and Jock Landale. … Ingles and Mitchell weren’t the only Utah Jazz guards at Marvel Stadium — Dante Exum was in the stands.
U.S. guard Derrick White of the San Antonio Spurs was tripped up as he dribbled downcourt midway through the fourth quarter, and hit his forehead on the court. He left with a sizable icepack on the left side of his head, walking very gingerly to the locker room area.
The U.S. was making the flight — just over an hour — from Melbourne to Sydney after the game, with plans to practice there on Sunday afternoon. Plans call for the Americans to stay in Sydney through Wednesday before making the trip to Shanghai, where they’ll open World Cup play on Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.
USA: Face Canada in an exhibition on Monday at Sydney.