On Sunday, an NBA game broke out at the FIBA World Cup, with Team USA and Team Canada falling into the high-octane, free-flowing star-vs.-star game they are so familiar with in a pleasant farewell to the league-obsessed Filipinos.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was the star of the show, scoring seven of his 31 points to start overtime and finally propelling Canada to a 127-118 victory and the bronze medal.
Canada also had a loud and unexpected statement game from Dillon Brooks, who scored 39 points as part of a shooting masterpiece.
Mikal Bridges created a legendary moment for Team USA when he finished a jaw-dropping four-point play by intentionally missing a free throw, chasing down the rebound, and then twisting and hitting in a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter to establish a stunning tie. Bridges finished with 19 points and gave it his all evening defending Gilgeous-Alexander.
However, it was only a reprieve. The Canadians will remember this day fondly because they earned their first major international medal in 87 years. The last time Canada won a medal in basketball was in 1936 at the Berlin Olympics.
The United States failed to medal in its second World Cup in a row, the first time since 1970. The Americans were handicapped by the absence of starter center Jaren Jackson Jr. and reserve Brandon Ingram and Paolo Banchero due to sickness.
Team USA crawled to the finish line, losing three of its final four games. The defense broke along the way, first due to additional possessions granted by offensive rebounds and then due to a devastating barrage of 3-pointers as the Americans struggled to get out to shooters as they sought to pack the paint. In the losses, they gave up an average of 117 points.
“We just didn’t defend well enough against Germany [in the semifinals] or against Canada, and that’s the bottom line,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “Every year when you try to build a team, you try to build the best two-way team you can and be able to get stops and score, and everybody’s trying to do that.”
Counting the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 Olympics, where Team USA won gold, the Americans have now lost seven times. This summer’s roster, which emphasized agility and versatility, has been useless.
After a strong pre-tournament showing, executive director Grant Hill, general manager Sean Ford, and Kerr were optimistic about the team’s prospects. However, they must return to the drawing board and the star player recruiting trail for next year’s Olympics in Paris.
“We’ve studied everything about FIBA and the history of US basketball, when we’ve won, what the reason was, and when we’ve lost, what the reason was,” Kerr said. “So we study all that stuff, and what it comes down to for us in this tournament is putting ourselves in a great position.” We advanced to the semifinals and were right there.”
Kerr, determined to make the small ball work, eventually started playing five guards and wings, with 6-foot-5 Josh Hart serving as the “big man.” When Hart fouled out, Kerr replaced him with 6-foot-1 Jalen Brunson to go even smaller. Kerr played most of the game’s final 10 minutes in this manner, nearly winning.
But at that time, it would have felt like a snub.
Brooks’ final three games in Manila were excellent on both ends. The Americans knew Brooks’ reputation as an erratic outside shooter, but giving him room proved a mistake. He made 7-of-8 three-point attempts and scored 21 points in a scorching first half, running and chirping the entire time.
The crowd, which had jeered him earlier in the week because he was a rival of their beloved Los Angeles Lakers, had flipped and chanted “MVP” at various moments.
“It was a lot of fun.” “The hatred continues,” said Brooks, who signed a four-year, $86 million contract with the Houston Rockets this summer. “It’s difficult to compete against the world and a team.”
Brooks’ statement of “a team” was most likely a veiled reference to the Memphis Grizzlies, who parted company with him following last season.
Brooks also faced against Anthony Edwards on defense, enthralling the audience. Edwards finished with 24 points in a solid overall performance in the World Cup.
“We can’t get any stops, so I don’t know what we could have done,” Edwards explained. “Our defense is abysmal.”
Austin Reaves finished his intense offensive competition with 23 points for Team USA, while RJ Barrett added 23 for Canada.
The main reason the Canadians are flying home with a medal is Gilgeous-Alexander, who also had 12 assists and six rebounds on Sunday and completed the tourney averaging 24.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 6.4 assists per game on 54% shooting.
“He kills everyone in the league.” “He’ll probably be in the running for MVP one day,” Reaves said. “You must give him his flowers.”