It can usually be a bit hard for players to get excited about a bronze medal game.
Teams come to events in search of gold, after all, but Sunday’s game between the United States and Canada is not your average third-place battle.
The expectation is that intensity will be high with both sides still competing hard knowing what’s at stake. Canada has a chance to further cement one of the best summers in the history of its men’s program with a historic victory, while the humbled Americans will be aiming to at least salvage a disappointing performance at the FIBA World Cup by taking home a medal and not falling to its closest neighbours.
America has dominated head-to-head matchups for decades, but this is a rivalry that is heating up and should only become more interesting moving forward. While America has almost always prevailed, Canada did stun Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Co. In Edmonton in 1983 and more recently, RJ Barrett led Canada over the USA in the gold medal game of the 2017 FIBA under-19 World Cup and Jamal Murray did the same in a semi-final battle in Toronto at the 2015 Pan Am Games.
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A win Sunday morning (4:30 ET) would be an even bigger coup for Canada and would send a message heading into the 2024 Paris Games, Canada’s first trip to the Olympics since 2000. Yes, this American squad is much weaker than the group expected in France and already lost twice (to Lithuania and then to Germany in the semi-finals, while Canada fell to Serbia), but it still boasts some of the top players in the world on its roster.
Like Minnesota Timberwolves guard Anthony Edwards, one of the NBA’s rising stars, reigning defensive player of the year Jaren Jackson Jr., rookie of the year Paolo Banchero, Brooklyn standout Mikal Bridges, New Orleans forward Brandon Ingram and assists leader Tyrese Haliburton, amongst others.
Talent-wise, this is the best team Canada has faced at the tournament, even if it isn’t the best team. What we mean there is this American group hasn’t yet learned how to play together, how to work as a unit. They aren’t clinical like Serbia or Spain in how they attack or defend on a string. They’ve looked at times like good players thrown together without much of a plan, particularly on defence, where the USA has been shockingly porous.
Can Canada take advantage? Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is the best player on either team, as he has been all tournament, but he’s going to need help. It won’t be easy to score at the rim against Jackson or Walker Kessler and Bridges is about as good as it gets defending the perimeter. Someone will need to make shots and Canada doesn’t have the clear athleticism edge it has had on other opponents against its North American rivals. Team USA is also far deeper, which could be an issue given the load Gilgeous-Alexander has carried.
Still, a medal is in sight and that’s an extreme rarity for Canada. The country has a single men’s basketball Olympic medal (silver nearly a century ago) and is already in the top four at the World Cup for the first time ever.
“What we need to do now is bounce back and be excited for this next game,” Canadian head coach Jordi Fernandez said. “Me personally? I’m already excited. Ten minutes ago, I was really mad and now I’m really excited. We’re going to bounce back.”
Fernandez also mentioned how his group doesn’t have a lot of experience together in big games, but each test like what is coming on Sunday should only boost them moving forward.
“If we keep doing what we’re doing I think we’ll be really good,” Fernandez said. “I’m excited for our future, I’m excited for these guys and the young guys coming In.”
Can Canada bounce back after their loss to Serbia at FIBA World Cup?
Team USA shocked in FIBA World Cup semifinal, losing to Germany