And just like that, it’s all-over. For now at least.
Dream shatterer like Big Punisher, bringing the terror to your squad.
Years of planning, preparation, assessments and financial risk taking to turn Canada into a global basketball powerhouse by the year 2020 have quickly evaporated.
Chicago Bulls point-guard Tomas Satoransky nailed a two-point bank shot over the outstretched arms of defensive stalwart Luguentz Dort to send the Czech Republic to the finals of the 2020 FIBA Olympics Qualifying Tournament in Victoria.
Fighting and clinging to their last lifeline, down 10 points with .57 seconds remaining in the fourth-quarter, Canada mounted a miraculous comeback to force overtime as Andrew Wiggins nailed a three-pointer to tie the game at 94-94.
The improbable shot fired up the limited crowd of 700-plus fans in attendance at the Memorial Centre. With momentum clearly shifted, the Canadian team came out swinging, scoring the first five points of the ultra tense five minute overtime period.
Leading for a just 3:50 minutes the entire contest, Canada quickly let the Czechs back in the game, failing to contain their bread and butter offense of pounding the basketball inside to quickly get back in the game and set-up Satoransky’s heartbreaking, game-winning shot.
Tied at 101-101 with 15 seconds remaining in overtime, thanks to a smooth looking Andrew Wiggins’ mid-range pull-up jumper. Czech Republic head coach Ronen Ginzburg called a timeout to put the ball in the hands of his NBA star point guard.
Anticipating the ensuing sequence of events, Canadian head coach Nick Nurse countered by giving Oklahoma City Thunder guard Luguentz Dort the assignment of sending the game to double-overtime.
Instead of what looked like a sure extra period, Canadian basketball fans where quickly reminded of the cruel realities of international basketball game.
Onions, Baby, Onions. The infamous close-out words of former Toronto Raptors play-by-play voice Chuck Swirsky.
Olympic dreams put on hold for at least the next three years, extending the absence of basketball’s founding nation from the quadrennial summer classic to at least 24 years.
Ironically, Swirsky, a Hamilton, Ontario native is now the voice of the Bulls.
Despite specifically purchasing and playing on the same floor that earned the Raptors their first NBA championship — a well executed side-out, out-bounds play earned Canada a clean, open-up look, as Trey Lyles’ last-second shot hit the rim, went in, and out — but failed to deliver the Kawhi Leonard Effect.
Czech Republic 103 – Canada 101, Final, Overtime.
Checkmate or Czechmate depending on your accent.
American-Born Blake Schilib buried a game-high 31 points, dished out 7 assists, 3 rebounds on 11-of-19 shooting and 7-of-12 from the land beyond. Satoransky finished with 18 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists. Patrik Auda contributed with 16 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists. Ondrej Balvín helped the Czech Republic out-rebound Canada 52-32 thanks to his big double-double of 14 points and 19 rebounds.
Showcasing excellent leadership skills 21-year-old New York Knicks guard RJ Barrett kept Canada in the game with a team-high 23 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds.
Golden State Warriors guard Andrew Wiggins scored 17 of his 22 points in the second-half, including 6 points in 6 seconds to force overtime. The former number one selection of the 2014 NBA Draft added 8 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals in 33 minutes.
Nickeil Alexander-Walker also had a strong game with 21 points, 4 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. The Pelicans guard came up with the big steal to set up Wiggins’ heroic and unforgettable game-tying shot. Lyles finished with a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds and Andrew Nicholson added 10 points and 4 rebounds in the losing effort.
Despite the unfortunate loss and immediate disappointment, it’s hard not to be optimistic about the future of the basketball in Canada, more specifically, the senior men’s national team.
In retrospect, it’s hard to believe just how fast the game has grown across the country and the impact and effect it’s had on Canadian basketball players representing the maple leaf. Nearly 20 years ago, Canada’s senior men’s national team was battling similar NBA player turnout issues with Rick Fox and Jamaal Magloire.
Additionally, its been less than 13 years since naturalized Canadian citizen Samuel Dalembert was told to “get lost” by then Canadian head coach Leo Rautins, hours prior to a do-or-die game against Korea.
Therefore, regardless of how you slice the blame pie, getting eight (8) NBA players to commit during an ongoing global pandemic speaks volume of the changes that have already materialized and should provide a glimpse of the future direction of the Canadian senior men’s basketball team.
A lot has changed since those dark days, the Canadian national basketball federation has done a complete 360° shift and remains in prime position to execute it’s long term vision of becoming a world leader in basketball.
If anything, the loss to the Czech Republic should be looked at, as a natural, progressional step towards achieving that ultimate podium goal.