There were a little bit of nerves and definitely some questions about the Canadian Men’s National team as they headed into the FIBA World Cup this past week. This roster is extremely different from tournaments past, the core is young and doesn’t have many FIBA reps. While star power is abundant, sometimes that doesn’t always translate over to FIBA play. They were missing a juggernaut by the name of Jamal Murray, and their first game was up against a VERY tall France team — the no.5 team in the World FIBA rankings.
None of that mattered.
Canada has absolutely DOMINATED through two games in the opening stage of the 2023 FIBA World Cup. They stunned Team France on Friday, blowing out the Group H favourites 95-65 in Jakarta, Indonesia to start the tournament.
France came into the tournament as the previous two FIBA World Cup bronze medalists AND the most recent Olympic silver medalists. They have NBA talent in Rudy Gobert, Evan Fournier, and Nicolas Batum. Canadians worried how our Men’s National Team would fare against their size and shooting ability.
In the first half of Friday’s game, these concerns were valid. Canada didn’t have a very good half in terms of three point shooting, and both RJ Barrett and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander were quiet to start. They finished the first quarter down by four, 18-14, but were able to finish the half up by three, 43-40. It was team captain Kelly Olynyk who really kept the team in it to start. The vet was cool, calm and collected despite the shooting woes of his team, and was able to get to the free throw line multiple times — helping Canada keep up in points while also putting some France players in foul trouble. In FIBA, players foul out with five fouls as opposed to the NBA where they foul out with six, and that one foul makes all the difference in these close game situations.
It was really in the third quarter that Canada took this game and ran with it. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander proved why he is one of the most talented players in this tournament (and in this current era of basketball). It took until the 5:42 mark in the second quarter for SGA to get on the board, shooting free throws, and he scored just eight points in the first half. Yet, by the end of the game, Gilgeous-Alexander had a stat line of 27 points, 13 rebounds and six assists and two steals.
Foul trouble, mixed with France just absolutely losing steam, let Canada go up on a nasty (wonderful) run in the third quarter. For context, I was watching the game on the GO Train (#Dedication), and went through a ten minute stretch where I didn’t have service. In that time, Canada went from being tied with France, to being up 20 points.
By the end of the third quarter, Canada was up 68-48 over France, and the good times just kept on rolling into the fourth. Canada outscored France 25-8 in the third quarter and again 27-17 in the fourth. They held Rudy Gobert to eight points in the ENTIRE game, and despite FIBA Evan Fournier doing what he does with 21 points overall, it wasn’t enough to even come close to catching up with Canada.
It was pure dominance in this statement game for Canada. They not only proved that they are here to compete at the World Cup, but also that that have what it takes to compete with the tournaments biggest teams.
That momentum carried on into their early morning game Sunday against Lebanon. It was a 5:30AM ET start for Canadian fans but they were up and ready. If you thought Canada couldn’t top Friday’s performance, they did.
While Friday was the Shai Show, Sunday morning’s performance against Lebanon was a balanced team effort. That was proven by their FIBA record breaking 44 assists in the game. The highest scoring player for Canada was RJ Barrett with 17 points. Trae Bell-Haynes had 15, Melvin Ejim had 13. Cousins Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Nickeil Alexander-Walker along with Olynyk and Zach Edey all had 12 points each. SGA had an impressive showing with his 5/8 field goals (62.5%).
Lebanon couldn’t keep up through the entire game, and it Canada quickly breezed by to their second FIBA World Cup win. The final score was 128-73. Their 128 point performance tied Canada’s record for highest amount of points scored in a game.
Canada now stands atop Group H with a record of 2-0. In the second round their record (and impressive point differential) will carry over, and they will face two new teams who currently are in Group G — with the favourites right now being Brazil and Spain. Canada will need to win against Latvia on Tuesday, and then carry on this impressive play in the second round to make it to the knockout stages.
UPDATE: After Canada’s game this morning, France LOST to team Latvia. France is now OUT of the World Cup along with Lebanon. Latvia and Canada both have 2-0 records in the group stage and play each other next. Canada has now clinched their spot in their second round, and beating Latvia on Tuesday is even more crucial for seeding purposes.
In terms of their Olympic qualifier hopes, Canada fans are also keeping an eye on the Dominican Republic. Only two out of the seven teams at the World Cup from the Americas will get a ticket to the 2024 Paris Olympics a this tournament. Right now, it seems like the three front runners will be Canada, The United States, and the Dominican Republic. Team USA won their first game against New Zealand over the weekend, while the Dominican Republic, like Canada, has gone 2-0 through opening weekend. With the two top ranked teams going to the Olympics, keeping an eye out for these two other teams will be of importance as we progress through the tournament.
Canada’s next game will be against Latvia on Tuesday morning at 9:00 am ET. A win would definitely help their chances as they progress in their Olympic qualifier race, and with Latvia now 2-0 after kicking out France, beating them becomes even more crucial to Canada’s overall ranking in the World Cup tournament. You can watch Tuesday’s game on Sportsnet.