HAMILTON — Overall, a success. It wasn’t perfect, but the new iteration of Canada’s senior men’s team did more than get the job done against the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying on Friday night.
They thrashed the visitors 95-75 in a win that was bumpy at first, but in the end it was just what everyone expected going into it: A team with elite NBA talent supported by polished pros elsewhere in the lineup is tough. for anyone. handle.
Canada was led by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who led all scorers with 32 points and added five rebounds and five assists, as the Oklahoma City Thunder star helped her team open the game with 15 points in the fourth quarter. Her cousin, Nickeil Alexander-Walker of the Utah Jazz, added 17 points, while Kelly Olynyk of the Detroit Pistons added 17 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Dallas Mavericks big man Dwight Powell contributed nine points on 4-for-5 shooting while adding six rebounds and setting up an endless supply of ball blocks for Canada’s shooting guards.
The victory improved Canada to 5-0 in Group C play in the first stage of qualifying. They complete the stage on Monday when they travel to play the Virgin Islands, who are bottom of the group. Whatever the outcome there (Canada won by 48 without the benefit of his NBA talent when he played in February), Canada is confident of advancing to the second stage and, barring a sudden reversal of fortune, is well positioned to advance. to the FIBA World Cup. Philippine and Japan Basketball Cup.
But the outcome was somewhat secondary as the game was the first test of the senior men’s team’s plan to establish a 14-player summer core. That plan calls for their top talent to commit to playing for Canada this summer and the next two to build cohesion on their way to what they hope will be their first Olympic appearance since the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
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The difference was apparent before the ball went up as Canada unveiled its starting lineup, featuring four NBA players to the delight of a crowd of approximately 6,000 at the first bowl at the FirstOntario Center in Hamilton, Ontario. No one received a bigger ovation than Gilgeous-Alexander, who played high school basketball in the city before leaving for the United States.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Gilgeous-Alexander, who brought the crowd to its feet early with a left-handed dunk, a first-time event for the right-hander, apparently. “Just knowing that all the people that have seen me grow up since I was in high school, were there to watch me play today. Something I can’t describe and then it came out just the way I wanted it to come in.”
In fact, Canada had more NBA players on the bench watching (not all members of the summer core were able to play this summer, but as part of their commitment they are expected to be a part of training camps and team events) than the Dominican, who had none in his lineup.
Needless to say, they had no one to match Gilgeous-Alexander, who was as impressive as possible in making his first on-court appearance with the men’s team, a performance that bodes well for the future, but also signaled his emerging status as one of the best shooting guards Canada has ever had.
“He’s among the best for sure,” said national team veteran Olynyk, who is in his second decade with the program. “It’s a privilege to play with a guy like that. We’ve had a lot of them come through this program now. He is not alone. It’s fun to play with, fun to watch, fun to watch. I think everyone here got a present tonight.
“His IQ is high. He knows the game, he sees the game, he is not selfish,” Olynyk continued. He takes the ball off, retrieves it, takes their places when they’re there. He really knows how to play in the flow of the game. That is something that is sometimes lost. He is very good at it. Obviously he’s a high level player, super skilled at both ends of the floor. He changes the game, as he saw there in the third quarter. He just changed the game for us.”
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Canada’s talent advantage was on display from the start. After a sloppy start for Canada, they broke away for the first time from a DR squad with a 7-0 lead that featured a backspin by Olynyk, a spectacular block on a dunk attempt by Kyle Alexander (an experienced European pro in the NBA), two free throws by Gilgeous-Alexander and a triple by Alexander-Walker. Another 3-pointer at the buzzer by Alexander-Walker, who had nine points in the quarter, gave Canada a 21-16 lead late in the first quarter.
The visitors continued to press and led 31-30 with 5:48 left in the half and had the game tied 35-35 with 3:09 left before Canada ended an 11-1 run, punctuated by a throw-in. band on the doorbell by Gilgeous-Alexander before the teams ran off to their respective locker rooms.
Canada’s talent advantage began to show even more clearly in the third quarter. First, Olynyk and Powell combined on some high and low passing plays that resulted in Powell dunks. Gilgeous-Alexander then began doing what he does best in the NBA: using his low dribble and long strides to get the ball into the paint, where he spiked or fouled. Warmed up enough, he came in on a transition 3-pointer to extend Canada’s lead to 21 with 2:57 remaining in the third. Two more 3-pointers by Alexander put Canada up 28 late in the period as Canada led 76-48 to start the fourth quarter.
Canada was never seriously threatened after that and the highlight of the period was when Purdue University’s 7-foot-4 Zach Edey, the only college player named to Canada’s summer core, was substituted to make his debut in the men’s senior team, much to the delight. from the crowd behind the Toronto-born great man. The 20-year-old got on the board with a pair of free kicks for his first points with the senior team.