Sydney, Australia • And... they’re off. To China.
Team USA bounced back from an unlikely and uncommon defeat against Australia with an easy 84-68 win against a mismatched Canada team that wasn’t as close as the final score.
Part of the problem: when a couple dozen NBA players decline invites to Team USA, there’s at least still significant NBA talent on Team USA. When 10 key Canadians — Andrew Wiggins, R.J. Barrett, Trey Lyles, Dillon Brooks, Justin Jackson, Cory Joseph, Kelly Olynyk, Dwight Powell, Tristan Thompson, and Nik Stauskas — decline their invites, Canada doesn’t have any NBA talent behind them. Only Oshae Brissett and Khem Birch play in the NBA; today, Canada’s starting lineup featured the unfortunately-named Philip Scrubb and his brother, Thomas.
So the outcome wasn’t a surprise, but it was critical that the Americans rebounded from the loss in time for the FIBA World Cup tournament to begin this weekend. That they did, with a display that showed defensive dominance — as a team, Canada scored just nine points in the first quarter.
“That was our main focus coming this last game and we wanted to be intense. We wanted them to feel us and pressure them as much as possible,” Team USA co-captain Kemba Walker said. “I thought we did a great job tonight."
Jazzman Donovan Mitchell’s scoring bookended the first half, putting the game’s first five points through the basket and a punctuating alley-oop dunk that was the highlight of the night as the second-quarter buzzer expired.
In the end, Mitchell finished with 12 points on 5-12 shooting. But he wasn’t just scoring: he also led both teams in assists by accumulating four — though he did pick up five turnovers — alongside two steals and three rebounds.
The Celtics’ Jaylen Brown led Team USA in scoring with 19 points, nearly all of them inside. Kyle Wiltjer led Canada with 21, mostly accumulated late.
But perhaps the game’s most entertaining moment came from the 15,155 in attendance at Qudos Bank Arena, the site of the 2000 Sydney Olympics basketball tournament. With the crowd bored thanks to an insurmountable USA lead, a few started to chant for Milwaukee center Brook Lopez to get back into the game. Lopez, who has no distinguishable Australian ties that he’s aware of, then heard the chants escalate until finally, the whole arena was chanting “We want Lopez.”
USA coach Gregg Popovich pulled a pump-fake, pretending to substitute a different player in the game, to Aussie boos. But finally, Lopez got the call with about a minute left, to raucous cheers and even MVP chants.
The first question to Lopez after the game: “I guess you’re prime minister of Australia now?”
“I guess, it’s a big responsibility. I hope I’m up for the challenge,” Lopez said. “It seems the people have spoken.”