Australia tops Canada in gritty FIBA World Cup opener

The overmatched, underdog Canadians played an extraordinary third quarter in their World Cup opener against Australia on Sunday, one of the best games we’ve seen in a long time, but the Aussies responded with an even better fourth. And now Canada faces a mammoth task to reach the second round after a 108-92 loss.

Cory Joseph (6) of Canada drives the ball during the 2019 FIBA World Cup, first round match between Canada and Australia at Dongguan Basketball Center on Sunday in Dongguan, China | Zhizhao Wu/Getty Images

DONGGUAN, CHINA (September 1, 2019) – The Canadian Senior Men’s National Team dropped a 108-92  decision to Australia in their first game at the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 despite’s come-from-behind 37-point outburst in the third quarter.

Khem Birch led the Canadians with 18 points as Cory Joseph added 16 and Kevin Pangos scored 14 to go with eight assists in the loss.

“I thought we had moments where we played pretty well, we played our kind of basketball and I thought there were moments where we struggled and didn’t get stops like we needed to, didn’t get scores like we needed to,” Pangos said. “They’re a good team. They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of size, shooters, so unfortunately it didn’t go our way today. We’ve got to get back and learn from some of the things we didn’t do so well, take some positives and get better for next game.”

Australia was led by Matthew Dellavedova’s game-high 24 points, while Joe Ingles added 13 points, 10 assists and five rebounds, and Chris Goulding added 16 points.

“They’ve got a really good experienced physical team and we just ran out of gas a little bit against them,” head coach Nick Nurse said.

After a first half that saw Australia take a nine-point lead after the first 10 minutes and then a 12-point lead, 52-40, into the halftime break, the second half featured extensive scoring runs from both teams.

“I thought the start wasn’t very good for us, and I didn’t think the end was very good, and I thought the middle was excellent [for us],” Nurse said.

Canada came out rolling to start the third as Birch struck first in the second half on a fadeaway. After a steal and score from Joseph, a steal and score from Pangos, and then a three from Kyle Wiltjer, Canada had reeled off nine straight points as Australia called timeout with their lead trimmed to 52-49 with 8:07 remaining in the third.

The Canadians continued to roll out of the timeout. After scoring just 40 points in the first half, Canada poured in 37 points in the third and used a 23-3 run spanning the end of the second quarter and first half of the third quarter to go back in front, and ultimately win the third, 37-24. Canada took a one-point lead, 77-76, into the fourth.

Things flipped again in the fourth where Australia opened the quarter on a 16-2 run to take a 92-79 lead with 6:24 remaining.

“We regrouped [at the half] and after halftime came out and put a heck of a third quarter together, then had another bad stretch to start the fourth,” Nurse said.

“It was a game [where] we were going to have to keep scoring and then we didn’t score for a stretch,” Nurse continued. “We were just playing transition defence and they were getting it down a little quicker than we would have liked because we had such a cold streak on offence.”

A bucket and free throws from Birch trimmed the deficit to nine points, but Canada would not get any closer the rest of the way though as Australia scored another 12 straight points to go ahead 104-83 with 1:16 remaining. Brady Heslip made a pair of shots in the final 28 seconds to narrow the final tally, but Canada was outscored 32-15 in the final quarter as Australia collected the victory.

Canada shot 48 per cent from the floor and 33 per cent (9-for-27) from beyond the arc in the loss. Australia finished 58 per cent from the floor and 41 per cent from three (11-for-27).

Canada had split two exhibition games with Australia down under, beating them just before the Boomers upset the favoured Americans, smashing an 78-game win streak.

Australia broke a number of records en route to triple digits. The 108 points were the most in a single game for the Boomers in the history of the FIBA Basketball World Cup, Joe Ingles dished out 10 assists, the most in a game by an Australian player since assists became part of the boxscore in 1994, and the team dished out 24 assists, another national record.

Point differential is the second tiebreaker (after head-to-head record) in FIBA so it really is vital to play out every game to the very end; there is no such thing as garbage time.

All games in Group H, the group of death, are being played in the city of Dongquan. Fans packed the 15,000-seat arena, home of the Guangdong Southern Tigers of the Chinese Basketball Association, to watch Senegal play Lithuania.

In an interesting coaching move, as pointed out by Michael Grange on Sportsnet, “when Australia’s hot fourth quarter pushed their lead to 21, Nurse subbed in little-used sharpshooter Brady Heslip with 1:06 to play. Heslip had already hit a three on his only shot of the first half and then knocked down two more on two more touches on Canada’s last two possessions to cut Australia’s margin of victory to 16. It could mean nothing, but if Lithuania loses to the Aussies by 17, for example, it could mean everything.”

Nurse said.“We knew we were going to have to play extraordinary basketball to get out of this group. And we had some extraordinary moments tonight, but we’re going to have to stretch them out a little bit and go from there.”

Up next for the Canadians is a meeting with No. 7-ranked Lithuania (which whomped Senegal 101-47) on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 7:30 A.M. ET. Fans can catch the game streaming live on DAZN.

Canada Basketball, FIBA. Photos from Dongguan Media Center

Road to the Olympic Games: FIBA basketball World Cup – Canada vs. Australia

Watch Canada face Australia in their first match of the FIBA World Cup event in China. 0:00

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