It was clear from the moment the game went live, and expected by most, but Canada upheld their end of the bargain and continued their march through the group stage with a win against Lebanon. A game in which the stars of Team Canada did well to set the tone, but the real hammer stroke fell hardest as their depth pieces piled on triple after triple against the Lebanon defense, buoyed by their record setting assist tally: 43.
Anchored by the sweet shooting Omari Spellman (and boy did he make some nice jumpers), the Lebanon defense had little recourse against Canada’s attack. ‘SGA’ was fresh off a game where he had to navigate Rudy Gobert in a 3-second-less paint, and the question is never about if his primary defender can stop him, it’s about how much help you send. He found space, and the paint, everytime he looked for it. On defense, he started his lonesome 3/4 press on Lebanon’s ballhandlers and ate space like a black hole. His approach, and Canada’s approach, were one in the same: cover the court with length and athleticism. Change passing angles, jump passing lanes, bother dribbles, and expect the collective of defenders to cover the space. Lebanon was rushed, overwhelmed, and they never worked themselves out of it. Canada sent their ball screens to the sideline, made them pass up court, and supercharged their transition.
The biggest motivator of their early success on offense? Kelly Olynyk, whose grab-and-go stylings stretched Lebanon’s defense like butter over too much toast. An early lob to Dwight Powell (who beat his man down the floor with some early work), a bounce pass to RJ Barrett – that many basketball fans might expect from Scottie Barnes – and the chess pieces on offense forming up around his post-ups in the halfcourt. A brilliant little stretch of hoops to guide Canada through the first quarter, and they led by 16 points at the end of it.
The lead ballooned after that, largely on the strength of that continued defensive fervor and ever sweet shooting touch from Canada’s depth. Trae Bell-Haynes punching in 4 triples (80%) in 8 minutes of work. Catch-high keep-high, prep the feet, form to the ball – whatever attributes are typically attributed to shooters and their shot-prep, Bell-Haynes embodied it and with the tremendous finish. Melvin Ejim providing his well-known two-way impact with shooting and length. Phil Scrubb cashed a triple, and all of Canada’s ball handlers saw fit to work the ball to Zach Edey in the paint. A lay down here, a hook shot there, Canada found easy offense both in the open floor and the halfcourt.
By the end of the first half, and playing far more bench pieces than they had against France, they led 66-30. They shot 68% from the field, and an absurd 61% on their threes in the half. Their 7 turnovers didn’t necessarily please coach Jordi Fernandez, but the 13 turnovers from Lebanon did. A surehanded continuation of their domination against France.
The momentum of the game never shifted back. Lebanon grinded through offensive possession after offensive possession where the sum of their actions returned turnovers and long jumpshots. Every once in awhile they would hit a jumper, or wiggle to the rim for a layup, but it was claustrophobic to watch.
Halfway through the third quarter, a turnover led to a Barrett breakaway where he punched in a windmill dunk to give Canada a 50-point lead. It wasn’t just that Canada was completely suppressing Lebanon’s offense, they were still cutting through their defense like a hot knife through butter. Second butter reference?? What am I doing?
The slips to the rim were being thrown to and caught in traffic. If the play ever broke down into an isolation, one of Gilgeous-alexander, Dillon Brooks, or Barrett could knife to the rim or hit a contested jumper. They poured it on, and on, and on – as they’re meant to. Point differential looms large in these tournaments, and the more dominant these Canadian fellas are now, the easier the road map will be to a medal in this tournament and an Olympic berth in the future.
If the 16 point lead after one seemed like a lot? 36 points at half? Well, it never ceased growing. Canada’s shot chart was an analytic wet dream, sporting only looks in the paint and from 3 – both converted at absurd rates.
Bell-Haynes continued to cook. Edey found even more comfort in the FIBA paint — where, regardless of how his NBA aspirations turn out, he will patrol on Canada’s behalf for years and years — sealing smaller players, clearing space for baby hooks, and dominating the late stretch of the game. The lead reached 60. Nickeil Alexander-Walker’s late shot-making cemented a fun stat: every Canadian player shot 50% or better. That efficiency was built on the back of great playmaking, as team Canada set the FIBA World Cup record for assist’s in a game: 43.
A rout of Lebanon (128-73) doesn’t guarantee anything. They’re not a very good team relative to the world stage. However, you play who you play, you dominate who you can, and you keep working your way through the tournament.
Let’s see how far these guys go.
Have a blessed day.