Another morning of FIBA hoops today as the Canadian Men’s National Team played Slovenia in the quarterfinal of the World Cup in Manila, Philippines. After Sunday’s close game against Spain, fans were hoping Canada would be able to get the job done today without the decision coming down to the wire. On the line? The Canadian Men’s first ever trip to the FIBA World Cup semi-finals.
In their way were Luka Doncic and the Slovenian team. While not the biggest threat Canada has seen or will see in the tournament, anything can happen in FIBA. Anything can happen when Luka Doncic steps onto a basketball court. The Slovenian team had the potential to be trouble for Canada in the paint and for racking up fouls.
The keys to the game were simple: Stop Luka. Defend the paint. Avoid foul trouble. Get the ball to Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. Start strong.
For the most part, Canada executed.
The first half was pretty evenly split between the two teams — proved by the 50-50 scoreline at halftime. SGA was hot to start, scoring a quick eight points to start Canada off right. Slovenia’s three-point percentage was better than usual, and they started with an impressive 9-13 three point record.
It was in the second half that things got more tense. Fouls were being called left, right and centre. At one point Canada’s Dillon Brooks, Lu Dort and Dwight Powell all had three fouls. Yet, Canada was able to get a little bit of an edge on Slovenia in the third — continuing their record of good play in third quarters this tournament. They outscored Slovenia 30-21 in the third quarter and at one point were up 12 points.
Canada was not comfortable yet though — these days a 10 point lead isn’t much of a lead in basketball. The fourth quarter was a rollercoaster. The biggest story being that Dillon Brooks was ejected from the game and then minutes later Luka Doncic was ALSO ejected from the game. There were still about eight minutes to go and Slovenia was still down about 10 points, WITHOUT Luka... and Canada STILL was not safe.
Through the efforts of Slovenian players Klemen Prepelic and Zoran Dragic (yes, Goran has a brother named Zoran) Slovenia just WOULD NOT go away. Then, Prepelic was ejected too. Unfortunately for Slovenia, Zoran could not single handedly avenge his brother and get the win over Canada.
Canada won the game 100-89, securing their spot in the semifinal, and a top four finish in the World Cup.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was Canada’s top scorer with 31 points, 10 rebounds and one assist and scored 8-12 from the field (66%). RJ Barrett also had a great game with 24 points, nine rebounds and one assist. Nickeil Alexander-Walker had 14 points, three rebounds, one assist.
Dillon Brooks, despite not playing the full game after being ejected, scored his own 14 points, three rebounds. Yet, what really shined for Brooks was his defence, and how well he was able to not only contain Luka Doncic but also frustrate him down the stretch.
This game was one of those that really shows the differences between FIBA hoops and NBA hoops. FIBA hoops don’t care WHO you are — they’ll call fouls on you and even eject you. They have no patience for complaining, and just as much as it seems like they are whistle happy sometimes, they can also let the players play on quite often. FIBA hoops are more physical, gritty, and the scoring is not often as high — probably because players aren’t as afraid to be physical on defence. The five foul rule in FIBA also means the rhythm of the game can change on a dime. Someone who isn’t even on the NBA radar can come and absolutely tear up a FIBA game.
Which is why games like these, Latvia’s run this World Cup, and the dominance of teams like Spain can be so fun.
So, Canada does in fact survive and advance. They head into the semi-final (the first ever in Canadian men’s history) on Friday morning. They will face Serbia, who has been doing steadily well all tournament. They beat Lithuania in dominant fashion yesterday to clinch their own spot in the semifinal.
The good news for Canada now is that the WORST that can come from the rest of the tournament will be for them to play in the bronze medal match. The winner of the Serbia vs Canada semifinal will play the winner of the USA vs Germany semifinal to determine gold and silver. The losers of those two match ups will play for the bronze medal.
The battle isn’t over for Canada, but we can see the finish line. One last push to fight for Gold as Canada continues their historic World Cup run.
Think you’re a dedicated Canada Basketball fan? YOUR test is coming up as well, with Canada playing at 4:45 AM (yeah, in the MORNING) on Friday in their semi final match against Serbia. You can watch on Sportsnet. We’ll be there.