Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
Canada 97, Dominican Republic 61 | Box Score
Sometimes, things are as simple as the better team asserting that edge. It doesn’t always go that way – upsets happen, they play the games for a reason, and so on – but the way things look on paper usually look that way for a reason. It’s been hard to trust that with the Canadian men’s senior team over the last few decades, as their success at the international level has occasionally failed to live up to the growing talent level. The hope as Canada enters what they believe is their golden age is that the hurdle is behind them, that their player pool is deep enough, and that their talent is high-end enough to avoid any AmeriCup-like lapses moving forward.
“There’s a lot of talent here. We’ve just got to put it together,” said Cory Joseph.
Enter R.J. Barrett, Andrew Nembhard, and maybe the best roster Canada’s put forward for an international event. Barrett led a group of six Canadians who scored in double-figures as Canada opened up a lead quickly, weathered a push-back from Dominican Republic, and ultimately pulled away for an emphatic 97-61 victory in Toronto on Friday.
“This felt good, especially coming in front of my family and friends. A crazy environment, I loved being a part of it,” Barrett, who scored 14 points with six rebounds, said.
Canada eased into the game a bit early on, missing a couple of threes out of the gate to set an expected tone with what would be a cold shooting start to the night. After the Dominicans opened the scoring with a triple of their own, Kelly Olynyk got Canada right back on the board with a transition three that seemed to settle the home side down and encourage them to push the pace off of Dominican misses. That wound up the story on the offensive end for Canada, as despite forcing just a single first-quarter turnover, Joseph and Barrett were able to push the pace against a scrambling defense without getting too risky.
“Well this team leads the FIBA Americas in creating turnovers. That was a big thing for us,” head coach Jay Triano said. “Credit Andrew and Phil Scrubb and Cory mostly for just making sure we didn’t turn the ball over. We couldn’t be sloppy against this team.”
Joseph had a great takeover stretch, too, hitting a pair of off-dribble jumpers and taking one to the rim for a team-high six points in the frame. The only real sticking point for the Canadians was some foul trouble, as they got into the penalty with over two minutes left and let the visitors chip a seven-point lead down to two. Melvin Ejim responded with a three, Nembhard threw Khem Birch a lob and then scored a pair of buckets on his own, and Canada had stabilized some with a 25-21 lead.
They rode the momentum for a few minutes from there, threatening to put things out of hand in the second quarter. They were perhaps a little over-eager around the rim and on the glass for a stretch, but the Dominicans matched by missing a couple of easy finishes and Canada was able to get comfortable with a lead flirting with double-figures. Some fun Nembhard-Barrett minutes saw Barrett respond to missing a three by taking a hard drive baseline to draw a foul, and he’d later show that same desire to fix mistakes by putting back a third effort after a blocked dunk.
“I think if you were to have watched, I don’t know if you would know they were teenagers the way that they played,” Triano said.
Meanwhile, Birch wound up on the right end of another outlet for a dunk, this time from Joseph, and a Barrett and-one in transition put Canada up 14 and gave the teenager a game-high nine first-half points. Were it not for a few sloppy minutes late in the quarter punctuated by some truly awkward Olynyk minutes and a Birch own-goal, the Dominicans would have found themselves in a bigger hole than the 12-point one they entered halftime looking to climb out of.
Canada finally found that groove with a bit more precision out of the break and got a couple of lucky bounces in their favor, too, like a Joseph lob to Dwight Powell getting deflected only for Powell to stick a ridiculous finish. The lead once again swelled to 17 despite continued cold shooting – Dillon Brooks was 1-of-8 and 1-of-5 on threes to this point – before Rigoberto Mendoza answered with a three, the Dominican’s slight edge from outside their lone advantage. Canada’s defensive effort was the real difference throughout, and outside of Joseph getting a layup blocked on a post-turnover Barrett outlet, they did a great job converting that defense into offense with a major edge in points off of turnovers and fast-break points. Once again, the shooting kept the visitors close, their deficit shrinking as small as eight when Dagoberto Pena made the team 5-of-7 from outside for the quarter. A breakneck back-and-forth over the last few minutes gave D.R. new life, and Barrett provided just a little more breathing room with a tough finish to end the frame ahead 11.
Phil Scrubb opened the fourth by breaking a shooting drought with a corner three, and Powell followed with another tough finish on a tipped lob for an and-one. At a certain point, Canada’s talent edge should have been expected to put things away, and the Dominican’s commendable effort and shooting could only do so much once Canada’s shooting came around. An Ejim triple pushed the lead to 20 a few minutes in, and a his bucket out of a D.R. timeout capped a 13-0 run. Canada’s defense didn’t allow for much of a counter-punch, and a personal 5-0 run for Brooks – with some great play from Powell and a massive dunk from Olynyk – stretched things out to 27. Brooks added another three, and the close-out of the rout was fairly rote from there.
“I think we finally hit a three. We had good looks throughout most of the game, and I think it was Phil Scrubb hit one, and that kind of just started everything,” Triano said. “We spread the floor, Dwight Powell was excellent screening and rolling and creating space, and he got a couple dunks, they have to respect that. We gotta make threes. We finally made one and I think that just gave us a belief that we could do that. Make a couple of those, then they start closing out, we’re able to attack the rim. I think we finally just made a shot, to be honest.”
This is a great step for Canada in the FIBA qualification process. Not only did they show definitively that they now have the player pool to hold a rela talent edge in the Americas zone, they avenged an earlier qualifying loss to the Dominican Republic and won by a large enough margin to secure their place at the top of Group D if they take care of business Monday.
“It’s important. We had lost a couple months ago and came back. Canada Basketball is on the rise,” Barrett said.
It would be tough for Canada to have made a better statement or take greater advantage of a Toronto home game the new qualifying procedure allows for.
- Over at Dime on UPROXX, I wrote about R.J. Barrett, a “Mad Max” nickname, and the maniacal competitiveness that’s made him a top prospect and the new face of Canadian basketball.
- The Canadian U-19 World Cup gold medal team, including Barrett, was honored at halftime as the first Canadian men’s team to ever win a FIBA gold medal.
- I also wrote about the strong Raptors 905 connection to the Canada Basketball program.
- Canada’s second team, made up of the cuts from training camp and a handful of other players who had been around camp for scrimmages and exhibition games, beat China 92-79 in an exhibition game earlier Friday.
- The team included: Kaza Keane, Luguentz Dort, Adika Peter-McNeilly, MiKyle McIntosh, Marc Trasolini, Owen Klassen, DyShawn Pierre, and Grant Shephard, with DNPs for Manny Diressa (Back tightness), Junior Cadougan, and Daniel Mullings.
- Keane led the way with 27 points and seven assists, while Peter-McNeilly scored 19 and Pierre had 18.
- I don’t have a full box score for Thursday’s exhibition, but I’m told Lugventz Dort dropped 30 in it.
- DAZN, who hold the broadcast rights to these FIBA qualifiers, put the game on their Facebook Live page for free, which I thought was a nice gesture on their part. It’s still crazy that neither TSN nor Sportsnet picked up this round of FIBA games and instead let them fall to DAZN.
- The Ricoh Coliseum crowd was solid but probably not as loud as the program would like to see moving forward. Triano credited the crowd for bringing a good energy but said the team will need bigger and louder crowds as the new FIBA qualification procedure takes hold and these home games take on greater importance. There was not an official attendance number as of this writing.
- Among those in attendance were Tristan Thompson and Mark Cuban.
- Anthony Bennett has been dealing with an ankle issue but was the lone DNP on the Canada side due to a rotation decision more than the injury, with four bigs ahead of him on the depth chart against a team that played four-out quite often. Canada has the option to tweak their roster by Sunday afternoon for Monday’s game.
- Canada will host U.S. Virgin Islands on Monday afternoon in Ottawa. While Canada has taken control of Group D with the win over D.R. and the tiebreaker, and USVI have already qualified through to the next round by beating Bahamas this week, this game remains important. Records carry over to Group F in the second qualification round, including things like point differential, so both teams will still have plenty of incentive to show well. For Canada, there is an opportunity to improve to 5-1 and own the best point differential of any of the teams moving on to Group F, which would be a nice leg up starting that round at the top of the table.