Nikola Jokić and Serbia defeat Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece in World Cup qualifier

Jan 30, 2022; Milwaukee, Wisconsin, USA; Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) and Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic (15) reach for the ball during the first quarter at Fiserv Forum. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

In preparation for the World Cup in Japan and the Philippines in 2023, FIBA is in the process of World Cup qualifying games to set the field of 32 teams that will compete.

The problem for Nikola Jokić and Team Serbia: four of those qualifier games occurred without NBA players on the court.

Serbia was 1-3 in their group standings entering today’s matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo and Greece. The Serbians needed a win desperately, and Jokić absolutely delivered.

Serbia won today’s qualifying match in Belgrade vs Greece 100-94 in overtime. Joker put up 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists in about 30 minutes, taking on the defensive assignment against Giannis in the second half and doing pretty well. Every time the Serbians needed a big play, Jokić made it happen.

The battles between Jokić and Giannis throughout the game were incredible. Both guarded each other for much of the second half, and though Giannis scored an absurd 40 points, it felt like Jokić took over late in the game, making great plays on both ends of the floor. Accounting for all four MVPs in the last four seasons, Jokić and Giannis certainly put on a show.

Jokić had the better supporting cast though. Even though EuroLeague MVP Vasilije Micic went down with a lower leg injury in the second quarter, several Serbian players stepped up in a big way. Ognjen Jaramez came off the bench with 15 points on eight shots with some big baskets in the second half. Vladimir Lucic had 14 points of his own and came up with several clutch defensive plays, including a block on former NBA wing Tyler Dorsey. Nikola Mulitinov contributed 12 points as Jokić’s backup and was important in the minutes that Jokić sat.

Now, Serbia is 2-3 in the World Cup qualifying tournament with 7 total points in five games. They’re in a group with Greece, Latvia, Turkey, Belgium, and Great Britain. Only the top three teams in the group qualify for the World Cup next year, meaning every game matters tremendously. Here’s a link to the groups page on the FIBA website.

The Serbian team will face Turkey in another important game on Sunday, August 28th. If Serbia wins, they will move into the top three of their group and be in position to qualify. If Serbia loses, they’re unlikely to make the World Cup despite having a tremendously talented roster. In the qualifying games to follow, Jokić will be back in the United States.

EuroBasket also begins on September 1st, a separate competition between European countries that Jokić hasn’t participated in to date. He will play in the upcoming event though.

The great news: he looks incredible and may be better than ever before.

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