Welcome back to Earth, Canada.
After a tremendous undefeated run during last week’s Tuto Marchand Cup in Puerto Rico — a tuneup event for the FIBA America’s Olympic qualifying tourney currently underway — expectations were sky high for Canada. Enter: Argentina, a deep and experienced team that pose a significant matchup problem for the talented-if-untested Canadians.
And sure enough that’s exactly how Game 1 of Canada’s quest for a spot at the 2016 Games in Rio played out, a 94-87 loss to Argentina. Undersized and unimposing down low, Canada simply couldn’t stop the Argentine attack (read: Scola, Luis) and failed to capitalize on opportunities on the other end of the floor down the stretch. Time to panic? Hardly. Wednesday’s contest versus Cuba should be a perfect elixir for Canada, who will have more freedom to run the floor and play through mistakes. Against a crafty veteran team like Argentina you only get so many chances that when you miss out it’s over before you know it.
Yet there are still positives to take away from the loss. While Canada looked overmatched for most of Tuesday’s opening game, it really wasn’t until the last three minutes or so that a win seemed flat out unattainable; Canada’s athleticism and ability to put up points in a hurry (the Brady Heslip Heat Check Watch always makes for fun viewing) kept them in a game that, considering both ends of the floor, they had no business staying afloat for as long as they did. What’s more, a healthy dose of reality should be humbling and keep a team that hadn’t lost as a unit before Tuesday hungry as the week progresses.
But until then let’s recap what went down on Tuesday. So without further ado, here are the Three Stars from Canada vs. Argentina:
Third Star: Argentina’s opportunistic drive-and-kick game.
The Argentinians didn’t abuse Canada with the drive-and-kick all game, but they sure did when it mattered most. A pair of left corner threes killed Canada’s momentum and potential comeback down the stretch, as Argentina took advantage of arguably the most glaring weakness in Canada’s shaky-looking defence: the inability to stop the drive and keep opponents out of the paint. Compounding the problem, as the game wore on Canada’s poor defensive rotations remained, well, poor, giving Argentina open looks that could have been avoided. Credit Argentina — especially guard Facundo Campazzo — for recognizing as much and having the wherewithal to drive-and-kick to waiting shooters. Smart, unselfish ball movement and opportunistic offence are traits that most experienced international teams boast, and Argentina did just that. Though technically they shot worse than Canada from deep (just 5-19), they took advantage when it mattered and used Canada’s defensive lapses to their advantage.
Second Star: Nicolas Laprovittola
Wanted to give this to a Canadian — Kelly Olynyk’s double double was nice (13 points and 10 boards, both team highs), though he got exposed down low defensively too often. A trio of Heslip threes breathed life into Canada heading into the fourth. And Andrew Wiggins did this:
But nobody shone for Canada in the way that guard Laprovittola did for Argentina. His one-handed floater over the outstretched hand of Cory Joseph with 25 seconds left in the fourth cemented the game for Argentina — and the other 18 points he managed on Tuesday weren’t too shabby either. Quick, jerky, savvy, energetic, and opportunistic, Laprovittola — who was named Finals MVP after winning a championship with Flamingo in the top Brazilian league earlier this year — personified the type of backcourt player who can give Canada fits at this tournament.
First Star: Luis Scola
He locked up this honour in the first half alone, but after dropping 35 points and 13 boards there’s simply no other candidate. If there’s one thing Scola loves, it’s shooting the ball whenever it’s passed to him; he’s one of the biggest black holes in today’s NBA, which can be an issue when he’s asked to play a complimentary role. But that’s why he consistently excels playing for his national team, where he’s asked to be a ball-dominant force down low, given the green light to put his deep repertoire of post moves to work on seemingly every trip down the floor. Canada was already going to have problems containing bruising, active bigs down low, and a confident and red-hot Scola proved why. But you get the feeling this had more to do with Scola showcasing his skills than Canada’s poor defence. Maybe it was a combination. Doesn’t matter. Scola ruled today.