In what should give the Canadian team an abundance of confidence, especially after Jamal Murray’s World Cup absence was confirmed yesterday, Team Canada pulled out an 85-80 OT win Thursday in Granada, Spain.
Unlike the prior two games for both teams that required double-digit comebacks, this one never featured a lead that big for either team.
The Canadians controlled the first quarter in large part due to RJ Barrett’s hot start. Barrett continued where he left off in Germany, scoring eight of the first ten Canada points in less than three minutes.
Spain kept things close with balanced scoring throughout, including 19-year-old Juan Nunez, who was unafraid to penetrate against Dillon Brooks’ aggressive defence and make key plays late in the game.
While Barrett and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander’s offence led the way with 18 of Canada’s 27 first quarter points, the second unit struggled late in the quarter and to start the second.
In one defining sequence, an entry pass went off the back of Zack Edey’s head. Credit coach Fernandez though for not being shy to play the big man, as it would pay dividends late.
It was Canada’s tendency to accumulate fouls that hurt them most in the opening half. Luguentz Dort and Brooks combined for five midway through the second quarter, including Brooks with two on the same possession.
With the offence struggling, it was Gilgeous-Alexander and Dwight Powell who got Canada out of their funk, having scored just a single point in the first five minutes of the second quarter.
A 44-40 halftime deficit wasn’t what the Canadians would have hoped for after a hot start, but perhaps that helped them focus on the halftime defensive adjustments that much more.
This was particularly the case with Brooks, who looked like a different player in the second half on defence. Coach Fernandez appeared to draw up a play to give him some confidence with an uncontested layup to start the half, after he received some extra attention from the coaching staff as halftime concluded.
His improved defence was part of a unified effort by all the Canadians to make things tougher for Spain on offence, making every pass difficult. This led to consecutive shot clock violations in addition to a number of other late clock possessions.
The Canadian defensive intensity was matched by Spain’s ability to force turnovers in the third quarter, including three from Gilgeous-Alexander while attempting to dribble through traffic in the lane.
Still, the defence held up as a 48-42 Spain lead early in the third saw Canada respond with an 11-2 extended run to lead by three late in the third.
Coach Fernandez’ belief in the second unit to end the third and start the fourth paid off in part to help keep the starters fresh.
Edey’s rebounding and Trey Bell-Haynes’ aggressiveness on offence allowed the game to be tied at 64 when the starters returned midway though the fourth quarter.
Facing a five-point deficit with four minutes left, though, offence from Gilgeous-Alexander and consecutive layups from Kelly Olynyk made it a one possession game throughout the last minutes of the fourth.
It was fitting for a game played this close all the way to go to overtime, where a 5-0 start by the Canadians allowed them to never trail in the extra session.
There was a concerted effort to take advantage of the physical mismatch between RJ Barrett and 19-year-old Juan Nunez in overtime.
Although Nunez impressed even when requiring some secondary help, Barrett got the better of him in the final minute to extend Canada’s lead to four.
Canada’s clutch free throw shooting wouldn’t allow Spain any more chances, as they would take this one 85-80.
The faith in the second unit will also pay off tomorrow, as a rested Dominican Republic squad awaits the Canadians less than 24 hours after the conclusion of this game.