Thursday’s game between Canada and Spain might be just an exhibition basketball game, but for the two men roaming their respective sidelines, it may be more of a chess match.
New Canadian coach Jordi Fernandez, in his first stint as a head coach at the highest levels of the sport, faces his mentor in former Raptors assistant Sergio Scariolo. Fernandez worked with him as an assistant for the Spanish national team until 2019.
If Canada is to pull off a road upset (as 3-point underdogs according to the oddsmakers), they likely can’t afford to dig themselves a double-digit deficit as they did in both games vs Germany.
The Spaniards have similarly had to dig themselves out of double-digit holes against Slovenia and team USA. A 20-point victory over Luka’s team made this early deficit merely a sidenote, while they managed to hold a brief lead against the Americans after climbing back into the contest.
With their internationally-experienced roster depth and home crowd, a third comeback of this sort appears more realistic for Spain than for the Canadians in this battle of largely NBA-experienced rosters.
Where the Canadians have a clear advantage is at point guard. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander has led the team well, whereas Spain is testing its depth as a result of their top two ball handlers being away from the team.
This includes Ricky Rubio and former Raptor Lorenzo Brown. Veteran Sergio Llull is scheduled to return, coming off an injury that had him miss the prior games. As a result, they are forced to give the ball primarily to 19-year-old Juan Nuñez.
While Nuñez more than held his own against the Slovenians (who were without longtime national team floor general Goran Dragic), his youth will undoubtedly be tested against an opportunistic Canadian team that made Germany pay for their miscues’ en route to the recent tournament win in Hamburg.
Whatever the result may be, the Canadians will have to bounce back quickly, as less than 24 hours later they will be back on the court against a rested Dominican Republic team featuring Karl Anthony Towns.
Canada vs Spain all-time basketball series
Canada and Spain have played each other a total of 24 times since their first match-up in 1960. Spain holds a current 14-10 edge in the win column and has won the last four match-ups by an average margin of victory of 27.7 points. Canada’s last victory over Spaniards was at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.