Another summer of disappointment for our Senior Men’s team ended today as Canada somewhat-valiantly bowed out to a more experienced French side which simply had more play and shot makers down the stretch to win 83-74, pulling away midway through the fourth and surviving one final Canadian run very late. Likely first ballot NBA Hall-of-Famer Tony Parker was magnificent when it counted for France with 25 points including a clutch 3 to get it back up to 8 with 5 minutes left and a game-sealing post-up “and 1″ with just under 3 minutes remaining to regain French momentum after a mini-run got Canada back to within 2 at 67-64. Tournament MVP Nando DeColo had 11 of his 22 points in the first quarter and was a thorn in Canada’s side, especially in transition and to a lesser extent with his greasy off-the-ball tactics that culminated in an after-the-whistle shove of Canada’s Tristan Thompson followed quickly by a weasel-esque flop after Tristan stood up to him. DeColo plays off Parker very well and his gritty effort epitomized France’s emotionally-charged win.
For a group without several supposed top-end rotation guys, Canada stayed in the game ostensibly again because of 6’2″ Cory Joseph, who had 10 first-quarter points of his own and finished with 20 on 9-13 shooting as France quickly determined Joseph was the only consistent Canadian who could create off the dribble. Adjusting defensively by putting size on Joseph, Canada’s leader was not able to recreate his first half offensive heroics. 6’7″ Melvin Ejim again was an energizer offensively, making all 4 of his threes (Canada went 7 of 19 from downtown overall) – Ejim had a team-high 10 after halftime including at least 3 tough takes at the rim. Illustrating Canada’s inability to consistently get in the lane, France shot 17 free throws (14-17) while Canada only 8 and only 3 in the first three quarters despite a very close foul count of France 18, Canada 17.
In the end, France had more shot makers when it counted: 5 different French players hit 3’s in the second half while Canada went 7 for 19 with only 3 made 3’s after the intermission, as well as the best player on the floor in Parker (with all due respect to our great leader Cory Joseph).
The Canadians jumped out early, pushing the tempo as 6’7″ Thomas Scrubb led an 11-2 run with his only three from the right wing and then a transition slam that gave Canada an early 5 point lead. Canada led 20-15 late in the high scoring first quarter before a 15-3 run allowed France to build a 7 point lead – Canada turned it over 4 times during the run as the French exposed certain Canadian bigs in the ball screen game. Later France rode a 12-2 run to a 48-38 lead early in the third – which included a buzzer beating pick-and-pop 3 by 6’8” Boris Diaw, again exposing poor big man ball screen “d” by Canada, but the resilient Canadians got it back to 5 as Ejim had back-to-back strong takes bringing Canada to within 5 as the third ended. Canada got a 3 from 6’9″ Anthony Bennett that began their final run late in the fourth but Parker answered with an easy post up of 6’1″ Tyler Ennis to decide it once and for all. Ennis played valiantly – it was said on social media that he had been battling the effects of a flu or virus – knocking down a 3 and getting to the rim as part of a 7 point second half, but was exposed defensively on the ball and by Parker on the post-up.
Canada’s pair of CIS alumni produced mix results as Thomas Scrubb was in my opinion sensational defensively in the first half with several deflections, stops and key rebounds. His transition dunk energized Canada and some thought would bring him much-needed confidence offensively. Unfortunately, Thomas went 0-5 for the remainder of the game including his next 3 3’s, two of which were solid looks. Phil Scrubb showed signs of strong decision making in the quarter court during the few times he had responsibility for creating, finishing with 4 slick assists including a sweet dime to Ejim who finished with a slam. But Scrubb simply could not get going from the perimeter, missing open looks and as the game progressed, his teammates appeared to lose some faith in him as at least a couple of times he was in position to receive a logical pass but was looked off. Both Scrubb and 6’2″ Brady Heslip were unfortunately disappointing with their perimeter shooting after starting the summer strong in Europe.
Ennis did hit one wide open look from the right baseline in the third quarter but in general, struggled shaking his defender, drawing help and getting others involved. While his apparent illness may have played a role, he remains an inconsistent perimeter shooter, does not have blow-by talent and, as importantly, can be a liability guarding the ball in some stretches. We hope he uses the remainder of the summer to become a more consistent shooter which he will need to be if he hopes to garner major minutes in the League going forward.
Bennett hit a big 3 late and then was fouled on another 3 but in general, watching closely, it can be safely said that mentally he sometimes drifts. As in the Senegal game, a defender he closed out on knocked down a buzzer-beating 3 with less than a second remaining on the shot clock as Bennett’s hands were down and the shooter had a step to find the rim. Bennett also was attacked on the ball screen consistently, including the Diaw pick-and-pop 3 at the end of the first half. Clearly, Bennett has worked on his fitness and body but in my opinion needs to dedicate himself to the defensive side of the ball (and battling on the glass – I don’t recall him having a single put-back in the entire tournament), much like Andrew Nicholson did after last summer and then through this past NBA season.
Some will ponder how a dedicated, loyal group of managers and coaches including Steve Nash, Rowan Barrett, Jay Triano and Dave Smart should be judged after another disappointing result. Nash and Barrett were put in place with one of the promises being getting our best guys to play which was not the case this summer – difficult to place blame with them when Andrew Wiggins and Nik Stauskas choose not play despite being under contract when France’s Nicolas Batum arrives at the 11th hour just after signing his NBA contract. But the fact is that coaching staff was not provided the most talented group that Canada could potentially offer. While not having access to the locker room or many of the time outs during games, I can say with some measure of confidence that one contrasting element of our coaching staff as it compares with many of the other nations is the decided calm during timeouts Triano and staff exude with very little emotion spent toward the players. Virtually all of our opponents had coaching staffs who wore their emotions on their sleeves and tried to transfer that positive energy to their players during breaks in the action, a trait more typical of European basketball than our professional coaches in North America. It will be interesting to find out how, if it all, our management and coaching staffs evolve going forward with the new World Championship and Olympic qualifying formats changing from summer tournaments to in-season games.