Canada’s Golden basketball generation kicked-off the 2020 FIBA Olympic Tournament Qualifier with an impressive 97-91 win over Greece at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre in Victoria, British Columbia.
Greece came out firing on all cylinders, executing their pick-and-roll offense to perfection for easy alley-oop baskets and took early control of the game on a buzzer-beating fifth triple of the quarter by Leonidas Kaselakis to put the visitors ahead 23-19 after the first-quarter.
With Canada’s offence falling to generate many points and Greece threatening to open-up a double-digit lead, Canadian head coach Nick Nurse turned to New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickel Alexander-Walker (Toronto, Ont.) to kick-start Canada’s offense.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker sparks Canada Offence
Playing his first senior men’s national team game, Alexander-Walker took matters into his own hands and scored 14 of his 18 points in the second-quarter, including a personal 12-0 run as Canada trailed 50-46 at half-time.
Utilizing their superior depth and athletic ability, Team Canada made the necessary adjustments at the break and slowly chipped at Greece’s five-point cushion.
Canadian basketball phenom Andrew Wiggins, playing in his first-game back with the national team since 2015, knocked down a three-pointer with 3:44 to play in the third-quarter to give Team Canada their first lead since the first-quarter at 67-65. Canada pushed the advantage to five points on a made layup by Alexander-Walker and took a slim 74-71 into the final quarter.
A blistering 9-0 run to open-up the fourth-quarter pushed Canada ahead 83-71, their biggest lead of the game proved too much for Greece to overcome — despite mounting a late 12-6 run that cut the lead to just four points with one minute remaining in the game.
Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett take down the stretch
Sharing the court for the first time since being dubbed Canadian basketball phenoms, both Andrew Wiggins and RJ Barrett delivered when it mattered most.
Wiggins, the former No. 1 pick of the 2014 NBA Draft scored a game-high twenty-three (23) points, grabbed six (6) rebounds and chipped in with two (2) assists on 9-of-16 field goals, including 3-of-6 from three-pointers. Recently, turned 21-year-old RJ Barrett, and the No. 3 pick of the 2019 NBA Draft scored 19 of his 22 points in the second-half on 8-of-14 shooting. Barrett also contributed with five (5) rebounds and three (3) assists in 29 minutes.
Rather than discussing their individuals perfomances, both star players put the focus on the team and what the overall unit has to offer. “We have a lot of guys that bring a lot to the table, a lot of guys that can contribute to winning basketball, smart IQ players, strong players, scoring, defending, you know we got alot so we can adjust to any style of play.” shared Wiggins during his post-game interview.
“It’s our first time playing together as was definetly sloppy coming out the gate but you know pick-it up as we were going along and you know its a great team they helped pick me up and we got it done collectively.” added Barrett.
Dallas Mavericks forward Dwight Powell (Toronto, Ont.) also had strong game with 12 points, seven (7) rebounds on a perfect 4-of-4 shooting. Trey Lyles provided a spark with eight (8) points and two (2) assists. Donning the red and white uniforms of Canada for the very first-time, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort (Montreal, QC) came off the bench and finished with three (3) points, three (3) rebounds and two (2) steals in nearly 19 minutes.
Team Canada converted 36-of-65 (55.4%) field-goal attempts, knocked down 10-27 (37%) triples and 15-of-20 (75%) free-throws. Greece knocked down 34/70 (48.6%) field-goals , 10/31 (32.3%) three-pointers and 13-of-15 (86.7%) from the foul-line.
The Canadians won the rebounding battle 35-31, outscored Greece in the paint 40-32, scored 17 fast-break points including 19 points from turnovers.
Canada (1-0) returns to action tomorrow in Group A match-up against upstart China who will be playing their first game of the six-team tournament. A victory over China would solidify Canada’s top spot in the group, setting-up a potential game against the runner-up of Group B.