It was always going to be an uphill battle for Team Canada, with a young and inexperienced team playing one of the biggest games of their international careers against the host nation in a jam-packed stadium. And in the end, Canada didn’t have enough talent or composure to outlast the a deep and experienced Brazil team, falling 86-76 to Brazil in the AmeriCup Semi Final.
Canada gave it all they had just like they have all tournament long, coming out of the gate firing in spite of the hostile environment they were playing in in the full stadium in Recife, Brazil. Canada jumped out to a 20-16 lead in the first quarter after only scoring 24-points in the entire first half in their opening-night loss to Brazil, showing just how far their offense had come over the span of a few short days. Canada did a much better job getting to the rim instead of just settling for jump shots, finishing the night shooting 40 of their 62 shots from inside the arc.
But Brazil ended the first quarter with an offensive rebound put-back at the buzzer to go up 24-20, and it was a tale of what was to come for the rest of the evening, with Brazil coming up with second-chance opportunity after second-chance opportunity and making Canada pay for going small as they staggered bigs Thomas Kennedy and Kalif Young over the past two games in order to improve the offense. In fact, Brazil ended up out-rebounding Canada 47-28 in the game, including 17 offensive rebounds resulting in them taking 5 more field goals in the game, which was the difference.
“I think rebounding for our team from day one we talked about it. First game they played us, they had 20 [offensive rebounds]. Tonight they had 17. They had 12 in the first half, 5 in the second,” Team Canada head coach Nathaniel Mitchell said. “I also think that this team they pass the ball well, Brazil, it puts you in rotations: you’re flying out to shooters, they’re spacing the floor correctly. And sometimes when you’re flying around and trying to contest shots, you’re out of position for defensive rebounds. So I thought that their spacing, their shooting, kind of put us in a bind to rebound. I thought going small would help us offensively, which it did. But then the defensive rebounding suffered. So pick your poison.”
Despite the rebounding issues, Canada never looked like the game had gotten away from them. Despite being down by 44-34 at half and 67-54 after three quarters, Canada battled back and a pair of back-to-back three pointers — first from Dalano Banton and next from Jahvon Henry-Blair — pulled the Canadians to within 7 points with just over 6 minutes remaining in the game, 72-65. Then, after Henry-Blair made another three — one of his 4 makes makes from three in the game, helping him score a game-high 24 points — Kennedy tied the game on a pair of free throws and then gave Canada a 2-point lead with a layup, 76-74.
But it felt like every time Canada made a run, Brazil called a timeout and followed it up with a run of their own. And that was exactly what happened at the end of the game, with Brazil scoring the next 12 points and holding Canada scoreless over the final 3:19 of the game, winning 86-76 and putting Canada’s title hopes to bed.
While it’s true that Canada took a lead late in the fourth quarter and very well could have won with better execution down the stretch, it’s also true that it felt like Brazil was the better and deeper team throughout the game. They consistently made Canada pay for their lack of big man depth not only on the glass but also in the paint, where they shot 64.5 percent from within the arc compared to just 37.5 percent from Canada, with Leonardo Meindl, Lucas Dias, and Lucas Mariano combining for 45 points. In fact, Canada actually outshot the Brazilians from three, hitting 45.5 percent compared to Brazil’s 30.6, but it didn’t matter because of how much bigger and dominant the Brazilians were inside.
Plus, some of Canada’s failure to execute is simply relative to how well the Brazilians executed down the stretch, hitting 2/4 shots and making 8/8 free throws during their 12-0 run. While there are a lot of positive takeaways for the Canadians — ones I will explore in a further piece once the tournament wraps up — the flaws of their roster showed up in this one, including their lack of depth at the big man position and their lack of two-way wings (Abu Kigab and Lloyd Pandi were both great, but you’re only going to get so much offense from the two of them). In the end, it was clear that Brazil was deeper, had more experience in the international game, and more chemistry playing together than the Canadians. And in the end, that was the difference.
“It means a lot,” Mitchell, who has gotten the most out of this talented but imperfect group — demonstrated by their buy-in defensively, where they forced 18 turnovers against Brazil — said about his first opportunity coaching the senior men’s team. “I think you don’t get these opportunities [very often], and then guys like this who come out and play so hard, you just want them to win so badly for them to feel the opportunity to represent their country and to win a medal.
“Even with this [loss], against a good team, we’re going to wipe it from our memory and try to figure out how to win tomorrow and leave here with a medal. That’s the only focus I have right now. My team, my players, my staff, giving me the amount of confidence to be able to represent the country, it’s an unbelievable honour.”
Team Canada will play in the bronze medal game against the United States on Sunday at 4:10 pm ET.