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World Cup Collapse
Team USA goes home empty as Canada celebrates their biggest international win in nearly a century.
Good morning! While you were no doubt sleeping in to prepare for opening day of the NFL season, a couple of pretty good basketball teams with several familiar faces squared off well before the sun came up on the East coast. I’ll have a full wrap up of that game between Team USA and Team Canada right now, as well as the events that got them into the bronze medal game to begin with. Tomorrow, I’ll have one final FIBA wrap up featuring some (very extensive) thoughts on what we can learn from this World Cup.
🗣️ News & Notes ✍️
🏀 For the second FIBA World Cup in a row, Team USA will be leaving without a medal.
The Americans’ gold medal chances ended on Friday, when they lost to Germany by a final of 113-111 in a game that really wasn’t that close.
The US had a one-point halftime lead thanks to some exceptional shot-making from Anthony Edwards and Mikal Bridges, but Germany was the more cohesive team, methodically exploiting America’s lack of size on the glass and generating efficient offense through mismatch hunting and smart passing.
Those efforts started to pay off in the second half, when the Germans gradually built a lead that would top out at 12 midway through the fourth, but the US had one final push in them to get the lead down to one. That’s when Andreas Obst, a 27-year-old shooting guard on Bayern Munich in Germany’s top league, hit a 3-pointer to provide some breathing room. If ever there was proof that the advent of the 3-point shot has significantly leveled the playing field in international competition, this was it.
Team USA never seriously threatened again.
That loss led to Sunday’s matchup with Team Canada, who had their own disappointing defeat on Friday at the hands of Serbia and an unstoppable Bodgan Bogdanovic. Much like the Americans, the Canadians weren’t at their best in the first half of that matchup, trailing by 13 at halftime. They finally got things going after halftime, but Serbia countered them punch for punch in a classic third quarter, and then maintained a double digit lead nearly until the final buzzer.
On a positive note, RJ Barrett led Canada in scoring in the loss with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He was having an uneven game like the rest of his teammates before a nice fourth quarter spurt that featured a made three and a hard drive & finish at the rim.
Barrett brought that positive energy into a bronze medal game that left little doubt about who was the best team in North America. The Canadians got off to a blistering start, hitting six first quarter threes to go up by as many as 13. USA’s bench then briefly swung the game in their favor, but Canada regained momentum and seemed in control with a 10-point lead early in the fourth.
Once again, Team USA made a comeback to tie it up, but looked like they’d come up short after an SGA bucket and two Dillon Brooks free throws put the Canadians up four with eight seconds left.
Game over? Not so fast. After a missed Austin Reaves jumper, Mikal Bridges skied for an offensive board over Barrett, who fouled him on the put-back attempt. After Bridges made the first, we got a play that would have become the stuff of legend had the US sealed the deal in OT:
For a moment, it looked like Mikal’s miracle would give the Americans the momentum they needed to bring home the bronze, and even though it wasn’t a gold, some positive vibes heading into the Olympics. Unfortunately, the excitement lasted about 30 seconds, as Gilgeous-Alexander dominated the early portion of the overtime.
The US stayed within striking distance, but needed a stop when they were down six with under a minute to go. That’s when the ball swung to RJ Barrett, who Team USA intentionally left open behind the arc a few minutes earlier and watched him clank a three to make the strategy pay off.
This time, he made them pay.
Barrett’s triple with 44 seconds remaining gave
the Knicks the Canadians a nine-point lead, and with it, their first international basketball medal in 87 years.
Afterwards, he was understandably in the mood to celebrate, both on social media…
…and in real life:
Should this World Cup run change how we view RJ Barrett? I think like many significant events in RJ’s career, this is yet another Rorschach test that will separate the haters from the true believers. On the whole, he played well, and there’s a good chance Canada doesn’t wind up with the bronze medal without him. He also displayed his only consistent trait - inconsistency - and there weren’t any parts of his game on display that we haven’t already seen before.
My personal hope: RJ will gain a dollop of confidence from being either the 2A or 2B (depending on how you feel about Dillon Brooks) on a team that beat the Americans, and will take that confidence with him into the season. It certainly can’t hurt.
As for the Knicks on Team USA, I think they will largely come out of this unscathed. Jalen Brunson was targeted by opposing offenses throughout this World Cup, but he was far from the only American for whom that was the case. On balance, Tyrese Haliburton probably had the more impressive showing and was in during crunch time in several games as a result, but that shouldn’t impact how either is viewed in their capacity as starting NBA point guards. As I’m going to discuss far more tomorrow, Brunson remains incredibly valuable to the Knicks, who would be nowhere without his particular skill set.
And Josh Hart? He spent the last three weeks doing all the Josh Hart things we’ve come to know and love.
How valuable was Hart in Steve Kerr’s eyes? With five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter yesterday and Kerr feeling the need to have his most versatile lineup on the floor, Hart checked into the game for Bobby Portis and effectively played center until he fouled out midway through the overtime period. Between Friday’s and yesterday’s games, Hart played 42 minutes and went 8-for-8 from the field.
Will that be enough to get him in consideration for the Olympic team next summer? Probably not, although never say never. As for Brunson, Team USA’s de facto captain may have his work cut out for him if he wants to make next summer’s squad that will have all the pressure in the world on their shoulders to bring home the gold.
We’ll tackle that, and several other Team-USA (and NBA) related topics…tomorrow.
See y’all soon! #BlackLivesMatter