Canada moves closer to Olympic qualifier with 55-point win

William LouNBA reporter
Canada coach Nick Nurse in his signature squatting pose. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Canada coach Nick Nurse in his signature squatting pose. (REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon)

The Canadian senior men’s basketball team was utterly ruthless in its 124-71 dismantling of Jordan in the first of two consolation round games.

Canada shot the lights out from deep, as it connected on 24 of 44 attempts from beyond the arc, which nearly matched its entire total from three group stage matches (26). Kyle Wiltjer led the way with a game-high 29 points on 11-of-14 shooting, but it was a clinical effort by the Canadian offence that produced eight players scoring nine or more points, while also totalling 37 assists as a whole.

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With one more win against Germany on Monday, Canada can salvage an otherwise dispiriting 2019 FIBA World Cup showing by clinching a berth to the Olympic qualifiers next June.

Here are three takeaways from Canada’s win:

Nurse pushes all the right buttons

Canada Basketball has been under fire in recent days, but the hiring of Nick Nurse has been an overwhelming success. Until the top players arrive, Nurse is Canada’s best asset, and he was excellent in this lopsided result.

First, the offence. Nurse had his players drilled to move the ball, and the results were spectacular. Regardless of the competition, recording 37 assists in a 40-minute game is unheard of, and that’s a credit to how Nurse prepared his team. Unlike in previous games where the ball would get stuck in Cory Joseph’s hands, Canada picked Jordan apart with side-to-side movement, and that needs to be a staple trait for the program moving forward.

Second, Nurse also fuelled the offence by designing an aggressive defence. Nurse had his guards ambush the post with surprise double teams, and they showed hard traps late in the shot clock on the sidelines. That tenacious approach forced 19 turnovers from the Jordanians, which directly led to 30 points for the Canadian offence. Nurse also neutralized Dar Tucker, Jordan’s best and only scoring threat, by assigning a bigger wing in Melvin Ejim to smother the point guard, similar to how Nurse used Pascal Siakam in a similar capacity with the Toronto Raptors.

Granted, given the disparity in talent, Canada could have secured the win even without Nurse’s tricks. But all throughout the World Cup and the tune-up games, Nurse has shown his creativity and quality in trying to bring the most out of this limited group, and the results have been solid. Despite dealing with injuries and constant shuffle in the lineup, Canada has gone 6-5 this summer, and could finish 7-5 with another win on Monday, which is much more than what was expected from this haphazardly constructed group.

Lights out from deep

It was a missed opportunity throughout the group stage to not rely more heavily on the three-point shot. Canada wasn’t firing with the same accuracy as it did today, but the one distinguishable strength on this roster is its ability to connect from beyond the arc, and catching fire was the only viable path to an upset against Lithuania or Australia.

Granted, much of Canada’s performance is contingent on the defence. Australia, Lithuania, and even Senegal provided much more resistance than the Jordanians, who allowed Canada’s guards to repeatedly break down the defence at the pint of attack, which created drive-and-kick opportunities. Joseph, who led the team with eight assists, was particularly adept at drawing extra defenders on his drives, before finding open shooters on the perimeter.

Jordan switched to a 1-3-1 zone in the third quarter in hopes of stemming the tide, but that only made matters worse. Joseph and Kevin Pangos smartly ran pick-and-rolls to overload one side of the floor, before reversing the ball and creating open looks with a 2-on-1 advantage on the other side. Canada eventually doubled Jordan in scoring midway through the quarter, and finished strong for the emphatic 55-point win.

Wiltjer was the main beneficiary of all the open looks, as he continued his breakout showing with another 29 points. Wiltjer got into a rhythm early, and his confidence skyrocketed from there. By the end of the third quarter, Wiltjer was firing with a foot inside the logo and still swishing threes, which drew audible gasps from the sparse crowd in Shanghai. Wiltjer leads Canada in scoring throughout the World Cup, and he should be a featured piece for the program moving forward regardless of the participation of other NBA-level talent.

Ejim remains underrated

Ejim is the unsung hero for this Canadian team, and like Wiltjer, he deserves an automatic invitation to future events. Ejim thoroughly understands the international game, and he is perfect in his role as a 3-and-D glue guy.

Ejim has been a model of stability this summer. He takes on the toughest defensive assignments every game, doesn’t mind playing out of position and wrestling bigger players or chasing around quicker guards, he doesn’t ever hold up the offence by fixating on his own scoring, and he consistently makes selfless decisions for the betterment of the team.

Although he scored half as many points, Ejim was just as crucial to the win as Wiltjer. Ejim put the clamps to Jordan’s best scorer, and made all the right plays on both sides of the ball. His passing was precise and timely, he attacked wild closeouts and got to the rim for free throws, and he knocked down the open jumper when the defence failed to rotate. All in all, it was a clinical showing by Ejim, who finished as a plus-38 in just 18 minutes.

Not to be overlooked, but Ejim has also made the biggest sacrifice out of anyone on the team. He witnessed the birth of his second child through Facetime stationed half a world away moments before taking to the floor against Lithuania last week. Along with Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, and Brady Heslip, Ejim has been a loyal soldier for this generation of the national team, and he should not be discarded so easily if more highly regarded players want to attend in the future.

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