Canada settles for Pan Am hoops silver but sees plenty of positives in big picture
A historic first men's basketball medal for Canada at the Pan American Games was bittersweet Saturday.
It was silver not gold. And after digging themselves a deep hole early, the Canadians came short in a late charge and lost 86-71 to Brazil.
Teenage point guard Jamal Murray, who introduced himself on the senior world stage at the tournament, said he will look back at the silver medal with mixed feelings.
"It's heartbreaking to not get gold but still we're the first group to ever do this," said the 18-year-old from Kitchener, Ont., who is headed to the University of Kentucky this fall. "And we're proud of our accomplishment."
Canada's previous best finish at the Games was fourth in 1983.
Most of his teammates didn't speak to the media afterwards, filing past reporters like they were going to a funeral.
While feeling their players' pain, coach Jay Triano and team GM Steve Nash saw plenty of positives.
"In the big picture, it's great because we are moving in the right direction and guys are getting experience," said Nash. "And then in this tournament for us to finish higher than we've ever finished was fantastic."
"I'm happy we won a silver medal but it stings right now," said Triano. "It would almost be better if you won the bronze because at least you won your last game.
"But at the same time I'm sure upon reflection and a couple of days, or maybe even a couple of hours, we'll look at this as a real positive for our program."
The average age of Triano's team was 24. And it went 4-1, dispatching the Americans in a gritty overtime semifinal win.
The true test will come later this summer at the FIBA Americas Tournament in Mexico City, which will be a best-on-best competition
Triano expects to have six or seven new players including NBAers Andrew Wiggins, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Kelly Olynyk in the fold then.
"Those guys are going to be in the mix for sure and we'll probably have seven of these guys come to camp. That's 14 in camp and I'll have to cut two of them so it's not going to be an easy chore for me later in the summer."
Triano said it won't be the 12 best players. He will need players ready and able to accept certain roles.
The two finalists from the 10-team tournament will qualify for the 2016 Olympics while teams three through five will go to an Olympic qualification tournament.
The Canadian men had hoped to join the women atop the Pan Am medal podium. Instead they produced their worst first half of the tournament against a Brazilian side that kept the scoreboard turning.
A second-half comeback wound up the crowd with Canada reducing the deficit to six in the fourth quarter. Brazil bent but did not break.
Everything went wrong before that. Canadian NBAer Andrew Nicholson, with 11 points, fouled out some two minutes into the third after picking up a personal and technical foul on the same play.
The Canadians dug themselves a 13-point hole in the first quarter and it got worse in the second. Canada trailed 48-29 after a first half in which it shot a miserable eight-for-35.
"We got smacked by a pretty good team in the first half," said Triano.
"I don't think we had the bounce that we've had in other games," he added. "I think we found it at halftime. Why it wasn't there at the beginning, I don't know."
The deficit was as large as 25 points in the third.
Trailing 67-54 after three quarters, Canada cut the lead to 69-63 with an 9-0 run early in the fourth that had the Mattamy Athletic Centre rocking. Brazil calmly answered back and pulled down crucial late rebounds to keep Canada away from the ball.
Larry Taylor, Rafael Hettsheimeir and Augusto Lima had 13 points apiece for Brazil.
NBAer Anthony Bennett had 18 for Canada.
Despite the loss, Triano was happy with his team's play throughout the tournament and said his team will learn from the final loss.
"We got knocked on our heels but we never quit, we came back and I think the guys really played in the second half."
Brazil started slowly with a pair of turnovers and two missed three-pointers. But that all changed when the Brazilians, down 11-9, reeled off a 17-0 run during which Canada missed 11 straight shots.
Melvin Ejim finally ended the five-minute six-second drought with a bucket with 29 seconds remaining in the first. A shell-shocked Canada, with Bennett on the bench with two fouls, trailed 26-13 at the end of the first quarter.
The Canadians missed their first nine shots in the second quarter. Nicholson, after making a block at the other end, finally sank a three-pointer with four minutes remaining. Brazil led by as many as 19.
Murray and Brady Heslip, two of Canada's top shooters, went 0-for-11 in the first half. Starting point guard Junior Cadougan was 0-for-4. Brazil, meanwhile, shot 62 per cent (19 of 31).
The Canadians showed more signs of life in the third, outscoring Brazil 25-19.
Murray, Heslip and Cadougan finished the game with a combined four-for-26 shooting.
Nicholson (Orlando), Bennett (Minnesota) and Sim Bhullar (Sacramento) are the only three players with NBA experience on Canada's roster.
The Brazilians were missing four NBA players who were part of their 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup team: Leandro Barbosa (Golden State), Anderson Varejao (Cleveland), Nene (Washington) and Tiago Splitter (Atlanta).
Brazil, which won the tournament in 1999, 2003 and 2007, has six gold, two silver and six bronze in men's Pan Am basketball.
The Canadian Press