Canada gave everything they had.
They really did. Out-matched on paper and entering as 7.5-point underdogs, the Road Warriors gave an incredibly talented France team everything they could handle in the finals of their Olympic Qualifying Tournament, keeping the game within 10 nearly buzzer-to-buzzer and pushing back every time it seemed France might pull away. They were punched in the mouth, and they swung back. They were knocked down, they got back up. They should be proud of the effort they put in on Sunday in the Philippines.
In the end, though, France was a better team. They were a deeper team. A more talented team. Boris Diaw is a remarkable passer, Nicolas Batum a terrific defender, Tony Parker a cold-hearted killer. There’s a reason why they were the favorite and why, despite turning in a solid tournament to this point, we said Canada needed to play a perfect game to upset the powerhouse.
Canada played a good game, a spirited game, but an imperfect one, and so France came away with a 83-74 victory and a ticket to Rio in August (Box Score).
Cory Joseph, as you’d expect having watched this tournament so far, wasn’t willing to go quietly. He turned in another artful performance, scoring 20 points and dishing six dimes, playing 36 minutes and trying his damnedest to lead the charge. With France able to collapse in the paint, unafraid of Canada’s shooting – they went 7-of-19 from outside but were clearly shy to let fly after three games of ice-cold heaving – Joseph was operating without much space. That, and the inclination to try to do some very difficult things to help the team, resulted in seven turnovers.
Turnovers were an issue for Canada throughout the game, with France’s active defense proving frustrating. The Canadians had a prayer guarding in the half-court – France’s passing made it a challenge, still – but struggled with transition defense throughout the tournament. A lack of wings makes getting back tough, and France’s savvy guards took full advantage, getting into passing lanes and capitalizing on weak ball reversals for easy layups.
Nando De Colo, in particular, was a terror in that regard. He earned tournament MVP honors, scoring 22 points with three dimes and three steals in this one, all while shooting 8-of-12 from the floor. His performance was such that it seems worth reminding here that the Raptors own De Colo’s NBA rights, but that he just signed a multi-year deal with CSKA Moscow.
And of course, there was Parker, who looked as good today as he ever has in international play. Up against his former protege, Parker poured in 26-4-4 on just 14 field-goal attempts. Batum’s defense made life tough on Joseph and his length helping off the wing was disruptive when he was on a wing, Diaw’s passing from the post or in high-low situations was a marvel, and the French were able to work around some turnover issues of their own and a cold night from outside to keep Canada on their heels.
It could have been a different story if Canada trusted their shooters more. Not doing so was justifiable given the tournament performance so far, but the search for that element of shooting may have cost Canada some. Melvin Ejim, who turned in another terrific game and needs to be given an NBA look by someone, sat most of the stretch run with four fouls and ultimately fouled out but really should have been back on the floor sooner. Phil Scrubb had little business playing late. Canada’s inclination to go smaller to help with spacing makes sense, but they don’t have the requisite shooting to get value out of those looks, and their size is their biggest advantage (they won the rebounding battle 35-26 and grabbed 13 offensive boards).
There are things Canada could have done better Sunday, to be sure. Again, they needed to play a nearly perfect game, and they didn’t. When they developed momentum, they’d have a defensive miscue to help keep France in control. They’d fight back admirably and come up short. It’s mildly upsetting, because there were moments and stretches where this game seemed winnable, where a shot dropping or a stop materializing could have swung things, or at least made France less comfortable.
All games are winnable. The Canadians are surely disappointed and feel like they could have won. They didn’t, and now their international season is done, and they’ll be forced to watch (or not watch) the Olympics from home, Zika-free.
But that isn’t a failure of this team. Canada missed their best opportunity to qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 2000 last summer, when they coughed away a winnable FIBA Americas semifinal against Venezuela. That game should be the one people wring their hands about over the next few years, waiting for the 2020 Olympic cycle. On top of that, Canada was out Andrew Wiggins, Kelly Olynyk, Trey Lyles, Nik Stauskas, Andrew Nicholson, Dwight Powell, Jamal Murray, Kyle Wiltjer, Kevin Pangos, and more, and they were tasked with playing a flawless four games. Those aren’t excuses, it’s the reality they faced. This squad embraced that task and did their best, the odds were just stacked too heavily against them and France wasn’t willing to concede by giving enough inches.
It’s a disappointing end to this four-year cycle. Canada Basketball has come far enough that they should absolutely be in the Olympics. That they aren’t sucks, but the reason runs far deeper than their efforts Sunday.Follow @raptorsrepublic