Canada is going to Paris 2024!
Coming into the FIBA World Cup, Canada had a less than desirable 6-33 all-time record against European teams since 1954 and only one win to show for, in six tries against arch nemesis Spain.
In dire need of a signature win to keep their hopes alive in the 2023 FIBA World Cup and achieve their Olympic aspirations, the Canadian senior men’s basketball team mounted a historic and remarkable comeback.
They erased a 12-point deficit and outscored the defending champions, Spain, 27-11 in the fourth quarter, ultimately securing an 88-85 victory. This win not only advanced them to the quarter-finals of the World Cup for the first time since 1994, but also put an end to their 23-year drought in men’s Olympic basketball.
Canada secured their first Olympic spot since 2000, thanks to all four other Americas teams losing their final second-round games. This granted Canada, along with the United States, direct qualification to the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics, making them the two last remaining Americas teams.
Despite trailing 48-38 at halftime, Canada clawed their way back into the game by outscoring Spain 15-4, taking a narrow 53-52 lead. However, Spain finished the third quarter with a commanding 21-6 run, establishing a 73-61 lead with ten minutes remaining. The first quarter saw the two teams locked in a tie at 21-21.
The defining moment came when Shai Gilgeous Alexander scored the go-ahead basket with a nifty snatch-back crossover and a picture-perfect pull-up jump shot from the top of the arc, giving Canada an 82-80 lead with just 44 seconds left. He sealed Spain’s fate and iced the game by calmly sinking six consecutive free throws.
The 25-year-old Canadian point guard left his mark all over the last quarter by either scoring or assisting in Canada’s final 17 points. He finished with a game-high 30 points, shooting 7-of-12 from the field, 2-of-3 from beyond the arc, and an impressive 14-of-16 from the free-throw line. Gilgeous-Alexander also contributed seven assists, five rebounds, and three steals in 36 minutes.
Reflecting on the comeback win, Gilgeous-Alexander remarked, “It was a really, really, good game, really high level basketball, there was a lot of adversity, they played a really well-rounded game from start to finish. It’s a really good team over there, hats off to them, but I think our group just wanted it a little bit more, we knew what was at stake, and we were willing to do everything it took and we ended-up getting a dub.”
Once again, Dillon Brooks faced early foul trouble but refused to abandon his trademark aggressive style. He scored 11 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter on 8-of-12 attempts and nailed a clutch three-pointer to tie the game at 80-80 all. He also helped on the boards with five rebounds and added two assists.
Asked by an international reporter if this was the best game of his career, Brooks confidently responded, “Yeah, I feel like it, coming off a tough year with my whole squad (Memphis Grizzlies), it was great to refresh with Canadian blood. You know, with guys who believe in me, guys who got trust in me, and we figured out how to win this game in great fashion.”
Leading the charge early for Canada, RJ Barrett provided the crucial scoring punch with 11 of his 16 points in the first quarter and added five rebounds before being forced to the bench with five fouls.
Dancing his way into the locker room, Barrett was ecstatic about the accomplishment and perhaps finally silencing his father, Rowan Barrett, who was part of Canada’s last Olympic team, “I’m going to the Olympics baby, man that’s crazy. You know, this is good, I told my dad I was going to get there, so yeah I’m happy. Let’s go.”
Canada’s head coach Jordi Fernandez, acknowledging Spain’s tough challenge, said, “First of all, congratulate Spain. Great program, they were a tough one tonight. We faced a lot of adversity, we were down, you know we had to start from the bottom and now we’re in the quarter-finals.”
Fernandez continued, “it was a win that we all had to come together, and the guys did, Shai took us home, Dillon was amazing, there are some guys that played more or less, at the end of the day that was the definition of team and a winning team. It was not perfect, we have to keep growing and believe that we’re much better than this, because they took us out of a lot of our stuff.”
Spain was led by Willy Hernangomez with 25 points and six rebounds. Santiago Aldama finished with 20 points on 4-of-7 three-pointers and Alex Abrines chipped in with 11 points first-half points.
Canada (4-1) will now advance to the quarter-finals, in Manila, Philippines, where they will play Luka Doncic and Slovenia (4-1) on Wednesday at 8:30 AM eastern.
The other quarter-finals will feature a match-up between two European powerhouses, as Lithuania (5-0) and Serbia (4-1) face-off. The United States (4-1) will take on Italy (4-1) and Germany (5-0) will have the task of slowing down upstart Latvia (4-1).
Paris 2024 Olympics Qualified Teams
Looking ahead to next summer, the field for the Paris 2024 Summer Olympics is rounding out and nearly complete, with hosts France in place despite their dismal showing at the World Cup.
Australia is in as the best finishing team from the Oceania zone. South Sudan snatched the only direct qualification spot awarded to African nations at the World Cup. Japan booked their ticket as the top Asian nation, and Canada and the United States locked-up the two Americas spots.
Lithuania, Serbia, Germany, Italy, Latvia and Slovenia will fight for the two automatic European spots.
The last four Olympic spots will be filled via four last chance, six-team Olympics Qualification Tournaments (OQT) in the early summer of 2024. The outright winners of those four tournaments will qualify for the Paris Olympic games.
Team Zone Qualification France Europe Host Australia Oceania World Cup South Sudan Africa World Cup Japan Asia World Cup USA Americas World Cup Canada Americas World Cup TBD Europe World Cup TBD Europe World Cup TBD TBD OQT TBD TBD OQT TBD TBD OQT TBD TBD OQT