How Canada defeated Team USA to win bronze at FIBA World Cup: Where do Americans go from here?

MANILA, Philippines – Mikal Bridges made one of the greatest basketball plays you didn’t see, but it was only enough to temporarily stave off profound disappointment for Team USA at the 2023 FIBA World Cup.

And when all was finished, the Americans were on the wrong end of one of their worst performances at the tournament, while Team Canada was at its best.

What happened in the late afternoon Sunday in Manila is a lot to digest.

Dillon Brooks, perhaps the premier NBA villain, tortured his American counterparts with the best game of his adult life.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander foiled a defensive game plan concocted by arguably the most decorated USA coaching staff in history.

And the Americans are flying across the Pacific Ocean Monday not only without a medal of any kind at the World Cup, but with three losses in their last four games.

But of all the twists and turns of Canada’s 127-118 win over USA in overtime in the FIBA World Cup bronze medal game, one played when most people – from Montreal, to Detroit, to Las Vegas (bad example) to Vancouver – were sleeping, the discussion begins with the play Bridges made to save the Americans, if only for a moment.

USA had trailed by as many as 10 points in the fourth, and were still down by four with four seconds left. The Canadians fouled Bridges, who already knew what he needed to do next: make the first shot, miss the second, and pray. Coach Steve Kerr subbed in his only two available big men, Walker Kessler and Bobby Portis, with the slightest of hopes one of them could tap Bridges’ miss out to a USA player on the perimeter for a desperation heave.

Bridges did as he was instructed, but when his second foul shot clanged off the rim, it bounced right and no one touched it. Bridges sprinted from the foul line, corralled the ball, gathered himself behind the 3-point line, spun and fired the shot that sent the game into overtime.

“There was a lot of happiness (after that shot),” said Bridges’ teammate, Austin Reaves. “You live to see another five minutes and hopefully pull out a win, but that’s not the case.”

No, it wasn’t. Gilgeous-Alexander scored the first seven points of overtime to finish with 31 for the game. Brooks’ 39 points were more than he’s ever scored in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Americans seemed to have nothing left after Bridges’ shot. They were playing without three rotation players – Jaren Jackson Jr., Brandon Ingram, and Paolo Banchero – due to an undisclosed illness Kerr said had torn through the team, and once again were eviscerated defensively.

R.J. Barrett added 23 points for Canada, which shot 51 percent overall as a team and 17-of-37 from 3-point range. In all three of USA’s losses at the World Cup, the Americans played porous defense and allowed well north of 100 points. They thought they had put together a roster of mostly two-way players who were capable shooters and could play a swarming defense that switched all over the court. But against the better teams, those switches created mismatches USA couldn’t handle because of a lack of size. On Sunday against Canada, those switches meant that either Brooks or Gilgeous-Alexander was free too often.

“We can’t get no stops, so I don’t know what we could have done,” said Anthony Edwards, who led Team USA with 24 points. “Our defense is pretty bad.”

Gilgeous-Alexander, who arguably enjoyed the best World Cup of any player in the tournament, shot 11 of 20 from the field and dished out 12 assists to go along with his 31 points.

“We tried everything,” Kerr said. “When we doubled (SGA), Brooks was making 3s. When we didn’t, he was making his pull-ups. So give those guys credit, they both played great.”

While the Olympics are a different story – USA is the four-time defending gold medalist – the Americans’ last FIBA World Cup title was in 2014. In the last two FIBA tournaments, they’ve finished seventh in 2019 and fourth now. The three losses are the most for U.S. at a World Cup since 2002.

The Candians, meanwhile, had never placed at the World Cup and haven’t won an Olympic medal in men’s basketball since 1936. They took bronze this summer without at least two stars in Jamal Murray and Andrew Wiggins, with a coach in Jordi Fernandez who was hired just weeks before training camp began.

“We have a great program,” said Fernandez, who took over after Nick Nurse left the job following his dismissal by the Toronto Raptors. “We have guys that are going to want to be part of it, and we’ll decide when the time comes, but all these guys (on the current team) have the number one ticket because they’ve made this happen and we believe in loyalty.”



Brilliance of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Dillon Brooks take Canada to Olympics

Brooks, of Mississauga, Canada, and now the Houston Rockets after six seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, was sensational. He was left open for much of the game as the Americans tried to double Gilgeous-Alexander, and Brooks responded by draining his first six 3s and shooting 7-of-8 from deep overall. He was 12-of-18 from the floor and 8-of-10 from the foul line, with five assists, four rebounds and two blocks.

When Brooks arrived in Manila, and at least the start of every game Canada played here, he was booed mercilessly by the Filipino crowd with an affinity for the Lakers. On Sunday, he was serenaded with MVP chants.

“We really wanted to play (the) U.S. and we got our wish,” Brooks said. “I sent to the group chat (after Germany beat USA) that we got what we wanted, to be ready to play, and I was just feeling really good. I really wanted to play against (former teammate) Jaren Jackson, but I don’t know what happened to him. I hope he’s all right, but just having that edge every single game, remembering how I prepared for the game, how I was trying to be a leader out there for my teammates. I got to bring this back to Houston.”

Brooks, maligned in the U.S. for his behavior and performance for the Grizzlies against the Lakers in the playoffs last season, seemed to revel in playing for Team Canada and Fernandez. The Grizzlies declined to bring him back, and he landed an $86 million contract in Houston.

Brooks said of Team Canada: “Just having my country behind me, my head coach behind me, general manager, all these guys behind me trying to have me succeed, nothing to do with the politics, I feel like with contracts or any of those things. It’s hard to battle against the world and a team.”

Fernandez, an assistant coach in the NBA for Sacramento, said of Brooks: “I take this guy on my team every day of the week from now until the end of my career.”

The Americans are going to look different at the Olympics next summer, but that was never a secret. They built the World Cup roster with 12 players who had never played for the national team, deciding to go young with the knowledge that the more established American stars were more interested in playing at the Paris Games than in southeast Asia.

For nine games – counting five exhibitions and the first four at the World Cup – it appeared the Americans had a mix that might work. But they were exposed as weak defensively and on the glass by Lithuania and Germany, and shredded by three capable NBA players (one star) against Canada.

“We’ve really studied everything about FIBA and the history of United States basketball when we’ve won, what has been the reason and when we’ve lost what has been the reason,” Kerr said. “So we study all that stuff and what it comes down to for us in this tournament, we put ourselves in a great position. We got to the semi-finals right there. We couldn’t get enough stops. We just didn’t defend well enough against Germany or against Canada. And that’s the bottom line.”

Reaves scored 23 points. Bridges contributed 19 points and nine rebounds. Bobby Portis, seeing extended minutes with Jackson and Banchero out, added 14 points, while Jalen Brunson (13) and Josh Hart (10) also scored in double figures.

Kerr started Walker Kessler, the 7-footer from the Utah Jazz, in Jackson’s place, and Kessler scored six points with seven rebounds in 16 minutes. But for the entire fourth quarter and overtime, Kerr played much smaller, sometimes without either Portis or Kessler on the court.

“We didn’t get enough stops,” Bridges said. “They had a rhythm, but we just fought to the end. I could take that with me after this, but yeah, it hurts.”

Bridges, one of the most consistent USA players this summer, said he would accept the invitation instantly if he were to be asked back.

“Even though the outcome is not what we wanted, I wouldn’t trade these six weeks, seven weeks away for nothing,” he said.

(Photo: Nathaniel S. Butler / NBAE via Getty Images)  



Why Team USA not winning the FIBA World Cup was not a total loss

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