Our long national nightmare is over.
Canada’s men’s basketball team is back in the Olympics for the first time since 2000 thanks to a heartbreaking 88-85 comeback victory Sunday over No. 1 ranked Spain at the FIBA World Cup.
They trailed by 10 points at halftime, and after a demoralizing third-quarter rally got out of hand, the Canadiens trailed by 12 points.
Canada hadn’t played in the Olympics since the days of Steve Nash and Rowan Barrett. But now Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, RJ Barrett, Dillon Brooks, Lu Dort (all great that day) and Co. have done what so many Canadian teams haven’t since.
Mississauga’s Brooks battled foul trouble, contributed tremendously on defense and added an additional 22 points. Gilgeous-Alexander, the team’s Hamilton-born superstar, scored 30 points, including numerous free throws in the final minutes, and Barrett, the former Duke star from Mississauga and son of Canadian GM Rowan Barrett, scored 16 points. Spain scored 25 points from Willy Hernangomez and 20 from Santi Aldama, but it was not enough.
“We are part of history,” Gilgeous-Alexander said afterwards. “It is something that is almost indescribable. So many people have put so much work into this program along the way, and as we have the opportunity to do so, we want to thank them and represent them too.”
Canada had a unique opportunity to do just that before this even began. With Canada needing just a win to become one of America’s top two teams in the tournament thanks to losses by the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Puerto Rico on Sunday, it looked like Canada wouldn’t take advantage. Spain seemed to be in full control with the two of them, but once the Spaniards regained their composure, things got even worse.
But somehow, someway, even after three straight three-pointers failed to go down in the fourth period, Canada continued to dominate defensively and found a way to score enough points to prevail. Captain Kelly Olynyk, who had by far his worst game of the tournament, scored three straight points to get the team going, and then Brook made play after play to turn things around. Whether it was a block, a steal, a jumper or a layup, Brooks was there for Canada.
And in the end, world champions Spain had no answer to the brilliant Gilgeous-Alexander. In the fourth round he prevailed alone against his opponents, the third time he had achieved this at this World Cup. He assisted or scored Canada’s final 17 points and, despite pressure at the line, was flawless when it mattered most. When you have a talent like the All-NBA First Teamer, you have a chance.
Canada dominated its first three games in Jakarta with a lead of 110 points, including a momentous opening duel against world power France. Canada had also impressively beaten Spain in a pre-World Cup exhibition game, but the loss to Brazil plunged the program into another deep hole. As always, it seems that in these major tournaments, Canada is often doomed by a poor performance at the worst possible time. Fortunately, this group was given another chance, rather than in Mexico City in 2015 and Victoria in 2021, when their dreams of a last chance at the Olympics ended in agonizing fashion, with Venezuela and the Czech Republic scoring late in those games, respectively after Canada previously cruised at these events.
But this time it was finally a different ending. Even without Jamal Murray, Andrew Wiggins and other key players from its deep talent pool, Canada had enough to get the job done. New head coach Jordi Fernandez, who was appointed to the role just weeks before the tournament with the resignation of Nick Nurse, continues to impress with his strategies and the way he handles his team.
Both teams started a bit sloppy, but after one quarter the score was 21:21. Canada had little to offer offensively beyond what Gilgeous-Alexander and Barrett provided. Odd’s refereeing turned the game in Spain’s favor in the second period and then returned to Canada’s favor in the third before Spain fought it off and began to operate efficiently again.
Key moments toward the end of the Canadian rally included an extremely hard layup from Gilgeous-Alexander that also sent him crashing home; Barrett’s late foul overcome; Brooks hit a three-pointer to tie the game with 1:16 left, then forced a Spanish player out of bounds for a turnover. But the key point was Gilgeous-Alexander shaking off his defenders to hit an ice-cold step-back jump shot to give Canada its first lead since the first frame. When Dort made a steal after a deflection, the game ended in a free throw contest, and Gilgeous-Alexander calmly hit them all.
He later handed over to Brooks, who has had a pretty good summer, with that run along with the big new contract he signed with the Houston Rockets in July being the highlights he deserved. “It was special, one for the books,” Gilgeous-Alexander said of Brooks’ piece. “He plays the game with the right energy… He was ready for the moment. Great game.”
Next up will be Slovenia and NBA MVP candidate Luka Doncic in the World Cup quarterfinals on Wednesday (8:30 ET). The winner gets either Lithuania or Serbia, both with significant economies of scale over Canada. But regardless of what else happens in this case, this group got the job done. They will be in Paris and they will be dangerous.
After so many years of frustration, sadness and disbelief, Canada is back.
https://torontosun.com/sports/basketball/canada-beats-spain-at-fiba-basketball-world-cup Canadian men bring Spain its first basketball Olympics since 2000