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Team Canada overcomes Latvia to top Group H after FIBA first round

After a slow first half for the Canadian Men, it was none other than Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who lifted Canada to their third straight victory at the FIBA World Cup.

BASKET-WC-2023-CAN-LAT Photo by YASUYOSHI CHIBA/AFP via Getty Images

The good times keep on rolling for fans of the Canadian Men’s Senior team after they closed out their first round action this morning against Latvia. Both Canada and Latvia came into this game already having clinched a spot in the second round, each with a 2-1 record. While there was no elimination factor in this game, teams carry their record and point differential into the second round, so winning was still imperative.

Canada and Latvia advanced from Group H, and will play the top two teams from Group G in the second round. As of today (Tuesday), Spain has already solidified their spot in the second round, with a game tomorrow between Cote D’Ivoire and Brazil to determine Canada’s other opponent.

We’ll get to that — for now we need to talk about Canada’s performance against Latvia. This was an interesting match up from the beginning. Latvia’s superpower is long range shooting. They can hit the three ball from anywhere, their ball movement is incredibly quick, and they are a sneaky dark horse team. They beat Olympic Silver medalists France to eliminate them after trailing in that game until there was less than a minute left in the game. Canada on the other hand has struggled to shoot the three at times, and have relied on their players getting into the paint and being aggressive at the rim. Canada HAD to take this game seriously in order to succeed.

All of Canada’s weaknesses against Latvia were displayed in the first half of this game. At one point, Latvia was up by 12 over Canada and the team was shooting just 20% from the three point line. Dillon Brooks got three early fouls, and with FIBA’s five foul rule (as opposed to the NBA’s six) that was not good news. After being down 23-13 after the first quarter, the second quarter wasn’t perfect BUT Canada was able to start crawling back. A 5-0 run from Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and RJ Barrett kicked off what would become a dominant performance by Canada.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker also helped Canada’s run at the end of the first half with a couple of clutch three pointers. The team ended the first half on a 20-7 run, and a dunk from Barrett at the buzzer secured the lead for Canada, going into halftime 43-42.

At the half, Canada was shooting 30% from three (6-20) and 38% from the field (14-37). Fans were worried that Canada’s shooting woes would continue into the second half, but that was NOT the case. As Canada has demonstrated through FIBA games so far, the third quarter is where they shine — and shine they did. From being down 12 in the first half, they finished the third quarter up ten over Latvia 67-57. The Latvian team went absolutely COLD from three (like they didn’t make a single one), and Canada took advantage.

The fourth quarter was all about racking up the points for Canada. They maintained their lead, helped along by Latvia’s continued lack of shooting ability — something that could not have been predicted in the first half. Despite Dillon Brooks sitting for a lot of the game with four fouls, Canada continued to be physical and aggressive in the paint. Phil Scrubb, a Canadian mainstay over years with the program, shot a couple of three pointers to help rack up Canada’s score. Maintaining sportsmanship by not trying to score as much in a blowout game cannot be the case in FIBA competitions, where every point matters and Canada’s impressive point differential in the first round may come to save them in future rounds.

Canada ended the game up 101-75 against Latvia, absolutely dominating not only the game but Group H in general. The Canadian Men go 3-0 in the first round for the first time in program history, with a point differential of +111 — the highest in the entire tournament. They carry that record into the second round where they will face Spain and one of Brazil and Cote D’Ivoire.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander led all Canadians with 27 points, six rebounds and six assists. RJ Barrett had 22 points five rebounds and one assist. He also went 0-4 from the free throw line, which a little concerning, but he did do a great job of getting to the rim and drawing the foul, and went 4-6 from three. Team Captain Kelly Olynyk score 15 points, six rebounds and four assists. Nickeil Alexander-Walker scored 14 points, five rebounds, and two assists, scoring four incredibly clutch three pointers. Another whole team effort from Canada.

Two teams from that group of four will advance to the quarter finals. Canada will not have to play Latvia again, and beating Spain (possibly the other 3-0 team) will be extremely important in helping their chances to move on. Luckily, Canada played Spain just a few weeks ago and won. Beating both teams would obviously get them a spot in the quarterfinal, and of course there are other paths to Canada’s success as we head into the weekend.

While the excitement of this first round performance is large, there is still a long way to go in the FIBA tournament and in Canada’s Olympic journey hopes.

The race to the Olympics continues as two out of the seven teams from the Americas at the FIBA World Cup will get a spot for the Paris 2024 Olympics. Five of those seven teams remain, and while Canada currently sits atop those standings, it will be a tight race. Obviously, Team USA is the team to beat when it comes to the Americas — but the Dominican Republic and Karl Anthony Towns are right up there, also going 3-0 in their group play. For Canadian fans, cheering for Cote D’Ivoire in tomorrow’s game is the way to go, as Brazil being eliminated clears another opponent for Canada to think about when it comes to their Olympic hopes.

Canada will now wait until tomorrow’s games to see who they will play on Friday to kick off round two action. We know for sure Canada will play Friday morning and Sunday morning, but the final seeding of Group G will determine which teams they play and when.

Keep an eye on tomorrow’s FIBA games and tune in Friday to see Canada’s next step in their FIBA World Cup journey!