Normally, players find it a bit difficult to get excited about a bronze medal game.
After all, teams come to events looking for gold, but Sunday’s game between the United States and Canada isn’t your average battle for third place.
The intensity is expected to be high with both sides still competing hard knowing what is at stake. Canada has a chance to further cement one of the best summers in the history of its men’s program with a historic win, while the humiliated Americans aim to salvage at least a disappointing performance at the FIBA World Cup by taking home a medal and does not fall to its nearest neighbors.
America has dominated head-to-head duels for decades, but this rivalry is heating up and should only get more interesting in the future. While America has almost always prevailed, Canada has stunned Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Co. In 1983 and more recently in Edmonton, RJ Barrett led Canada in the 2017 FIBA U19 World Championship gold medal game against Jamal Murray against the United States. He did the same in a semifinal bout in Toronto at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
A win on Sunday morning (4:30 ET) would be an even bigger coup for Canada and would set a tone for the 2024 Paris Games, Canada’s first Olympic appearance since 2000. Yes, this American team is much weaker than the group it will be in France expects and has already lost twice (to Lithuania and then to Germany in the semi-finals, while Canada lost to Serbia), but it still has some of the best players in the world in its squad.
These include Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, one of the NBA’s rising stars, reigning Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Jackson Jr., Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, Brooklyn standout Mikal Bridges, New York forward Brandon Ingram, among others Orleans and assists leader Tyrese Haliburton.
Talent-wise, this is the best team Canada has faced in the tournament, even if it’s not the best team. What we mean is that this American group has not yet learned to play together and work as a unit. They are not as clinical as Serbia or Spain when it comes to how they attack or defend. At times they seemed like good players thrown together without much of a plan, particularly on defense where the US was shockingly porous.
Can Canada benefit from this? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the best player on both teams as he has played throughout the tournament, but he will need help. It won’t be easy to score at the rim against Jackson or Walker Kessler, and Bridges is as good as he’s ever been at defending the perimeter. Someone has to make shots, and Canada doesn’t have the clear athletic advantage it has had over its North American rivals over other opponents. Team USA is also much deeper, which could be a problem given the load Gilgeous-Alexander has carried.
Still, a medal is in sight and that is an extreme rarity for Canada. The country has a single Olympic medal in men’s basketball (silver almost a century ago) and is already in the top four at a world championship for the first time ever.
“Now we have to recover and look forward to the next game,” said Canadian head coach Jordi Fernandez. “I personally? I’m already excited. Ten minutes ago I was really angry and now I’m really excited. We’ll get back on our feet.”
Fernandez also mentioned that his group doesn’t have much collective experience in big games, but any test like Sunday’s should only help them move forward.
“If we keep this up, I think we’ll be really good,” Fernandez said. “I’m excited about our future, I’m excited for these guys and the young people coming in.”
Can Canada bounce back after losing to Serbia at the FIBA World Cup?
Team USA shocked in the semifinals of the FIBA World Cup, losing to Germany
https://torontosun.com/sports/basketball/canada-and-team-usa-still-with-plenty-to-prove-in-bronze-battle-at-fiba-world-cup Canada and Team USA still have a lot to prove in the fight for bronze at the FIBA World Cup