Canada’s pursuit of FIBA World Cup gold is over.
Serbia rode off a hot start and physically outmatched Canada to cruise to a 95-86 win and send Canada to the bronze medal game of the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
Serbia who has been to the semi-finals in three of the last four world cups will play for gold for the first time since 2014.
Meanwhile, Canada, with a record of 5-2, is set to face the United States (5-2), who lost a close match, 113-111 to Germany in the second semi-final. This sets the stage for a North American battle for the bronze medal and an all-European affair for the gold.
From the opening whistle, Serbia displayed remarkable efficiency, showcasing crisp ball movement that allowed them to jump out to an 8-1 lead.
Canada, however, managed to claw their way back into the game. The Canadians responded with an impressive 12-2 run, taking a three-point lead (13-10) on three-point shots by RJ Barrett and Kelly Olynyk, followed by a tough basket from Dillon Brooks.
Regrettably, the first quarter unveiled a new challenge for Canada, one not yet encountered in the tournament. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Canada’s top playmaker, found himself entangled in foul trouble, accruing his second foul less than a minute apart during an offensive play with a push-off call.
This marked the beginning of a parade of fouls, as both Powell and Brooks were also whistled for two fouls.
As Canada’s bench players entered the fray, Serbia heightened the physicality and capitalized on an 11-2 run, culminating in a commanding 23-15 lead by the quarter’s end. It proved to be Canada’s third lowest-scoring quarter throughout the entire tournament.
The reintegration of Gilgeous-Alexander into Canada’s offence breathed fresh life into their performance, enabling them to narrow the deficit to 28-23 with 8:17 remaining in the second quarter.
Yet, this proved to be as close as Canada would get. The mounting foul count hindered their progress and aggressiveness, while Serbia executed their game plan with surgical precision.
At halftime, the Serbians held a commanding 52-39 lead, shooting an impressive 64% from the field (18-of-28). This included a 5-of-10 performance from beyond the three-point arc, coupled with 11-of-14 free throws.
Despite Canada’s best efforts to force Serbia into turnovers and the heroics of Dillon Brooks, who connected on two early three-pointers in the third quarter, Serbia still managed to extend their lead to 75-63 by the end of the quarter, courtesy of two late three-point shots of their own.
The fourth quarter saw Serbia intensify their defensive pressure, pushing their lead to 17 points and comfortably securing a nine-point victory.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, a pivotal figure in Serbia’s success, notched an impressive 23 points with an efficient 8-of-12 shooting performance. This remarkable feat propelled him past the legendary Dirk Nowitzki, establishing Bogdanovic as the fifth-highest scorer in FIBA World Cup history, accumulating an impressive 427 career points.
Nikola Milutinov, on the other hand, etched his name in the books with a double-double with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
Ongen Dobric played a pivotal role in containing Canada’s Gilgeous-Alexander, while making substantial offensive contributions of his own, tallying 16 points. Marko Guduric rounded out Serbia’s offensive efforts, finishing the game with a commendable 14 points.
On the Canadian side, RJ Barrett led the scoring charge with 23 points, supported by Dillon Brooks’ 16 points.
Gilgeous-Alexander, although he didn’t score his first points of the game until 5:41 into the second quarter, finished with 15 points and 9 assists. He not only surpassed Steve Nash to set the single-game assists record but also solidified his position as Canada’s top assistman at a FIBA World Cup with 39 assists in seven games.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker added 10 points, and Kelly Olynyk contributed 9 points, four assists, and three rebounds.
Throughout the game, Serbia maintained control for 36 minutes, while Canada briefly held the lead for a mere 2 minutes and 47 seconds in the first quarter. The foul count saw Canada whistled for 25 fouls, the highest tally in this year’s tournament, compared to Serbia’s 22.
“Credit to Serbia, they played a great game, they played hard, they played physical, they are very well coached and disciplined, so we have to give them credit for that,” remarked RJ Barrett. “They started off fast, and we were trailing by 10–12 points basically the entire way, but we fought the entire time, but just credit to them.”
“We were okay offensively, but defensively, we were atrocious. When a team shoots 62% from the field and 45% from three, it’s evident that something wasn’t executed correctly. We didn’t prepare well enough for the game,” expressed coach Jordi Fernandez.
“Obviously, I got a technical foul on purpose, and I had my reasons,” admitted Fernandez. “Again, I think we lost because we didn’t defend. I will leave the officiating to whoever evaluates the officials. I can only express my gratitude to them for doing their job. Without officials, we couldn’t play the game of basketball, so we need to be better.”