Canada lose AmeriCup opener to host Brazil

Canada’s senior men’s basketball team lost their AmeriCup opener on Friday night, falling 72-63 to host nation Brazil. While it was a disappointing finish for the Canadians, who will have to claw their way back towards the top of Group A in the coming days in order to advance to the quarter final, it’s not as bad as it might look at first glance. 

Brazil came into the tournament as one of the most experienced teams, bringing almost the same squad from their most recent Olympic Qualifying window, including guard Yago Santos, who lit the Canadians up for a team-high 13 points, including two of the most important three pointers of the game late in the fourth quarter. Remember, Santos was named MVP of GLOBL JAM, which the Brazilians won in Toronto over Team Canada, and he doesn’t even start for Brazil in the AmeriCup. The Brazilians were also ranked No. 1 in the FIBA AmeriCup power rankings, and they came into this game as favourites. They were also at home in front of a sold out stadium, giving them all the momentum. 

And still, the difference in this game was minuscule, regardless of what the score says. After a really shaky start offensively, where Canada was throwing turnovers left and right, Canada clawed their way back into it with their defensive intensity and focus as the game went on, tying it 50-50 a few minutes into the fourth quarter. From there, Brazil found their stroke, ignited by a Santos three-pointer, while Canada couldn’t shoot fish in a bucket, hitting just 3/28 threes in the game, with one of them coming with 6 seconds remaining and the game out of reach. In fact, Canada created very similar chances down the stretch as Brazil did, but one team hit their threes and the other team didn’t. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. 

Still, while Canada generating looks from three all game, they couldn’t manufacture buckets at the rim with any consistency. Some of that comes down to Banton, who is the linchpin for this team and the point guard. While the youngster finished with a game-high 20 points and 11 rebounds, he was also a game-worst -11 with only 1 assist to 2 turnovers. Banton scored how you would expect him to — in transition and in the pick-and-roll, mostly at the basket — but he didn’t look confident shooting the three and doesn’t have much of an in-between game. He would have had more assists if the spacing wasn’t so clunky and if he was playing with better finishers, but he is going to have to do better with what he has as a playmaker. 

As I mentioned in the tournament preview, head coach Nathaniel Mitchell has his work cut out for him with a lack of sizeable wings limiting what he can do with his lineups. Mitchell started Dalano Banton, Trae Bell-Haynes Jahvon, Henry-Blair, Thomas Kennedy, and Kalif Young in this one, but the team struggled with their spacing when two bigs shared the court. After all, neither Kennedy nor Young are outside shooters, and with Banton being a non-shooter, Canada would often run pick and roll, create an advantage, and throw it out to an open big on the perimeter, forcing them to reset their offense instead of shooting the open three. 

When they went small, playing with only one big in the fourth quarter, Brazil took advantage on the offensive boards, finishing second-chance opportunities to take the deciding lead in the game. Mitchell might want to consider breaking up Kennedy and Young in order to get more shooting onto the floor. But I get it: both of them are really good and deserving of big minutes, with Young a great finisher and shot blocker and Kennedy a more versatile forward who can move his feet on the perimeter but is strong enough to hang with bigger players down low. As an aside, Kennedy continues to impress me with his screening, rebounding, and short-roll playmaking, proving to be a heady player who makes winning plays all over the court. 

Plus, even if Mitchell goes small and asks Abu Kigab to guard an opposing big — which he can do very well, as he was everywhere defensively against Brazil, finishing with a steal and a block — Canada is still going to have spacing problems, as teams are leaving Kigab open from three and daring him to beat them. Insert him into the starting lineup for a big, and you still have similar spacing problems. So there is no clear-cut solution to Canada’s offensive woes here.  

In reality, Canada is probably going to have to win games the same way they almost did against Brazil: with elite half court defense, which is propelled forward by their switchable personnel and their focus and hustle; with transition scoring, taking advantage of each turnover they force (they only scored 10 fast break points on 13 forced turnovers against Brazil); and by taking care of the ball on offense and hoping for better three point luck.

Sound like another team that wears red and white? 


Canada plays Uruguay next at 4:40 pm EST on Saturday, September 3rd. The game is available to watch live in Canada on DAZN. Canada is still in a fine position, as long as they beat their next two round robin opponents in Uruguay and Colombia. If they lose even one, they risk not advancing beyond the group stage. 

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