Argentina gives Canada a lesson at FIBA Americas
Argentina gives Canada a lesson at FIBA Americas
Sometimes the best, most lasting lessons are the toughest ones.
Canada was certainly taught a few in their opening match of the 2015 FIBA Tournament of the Americas. With a massive thunderstorm raging outside the Palacio De Los Deportes, Canada’s bright international future briefly clouded over.
Perhaps the biggest teachable is that everything they do and hope to accomplish internationally will have to be earned. Nothing will be given.
Argentina made that perfectly clear as they enlightened Canada with a 97-84 win that improved them to 2-0 in Group B and dropped Canada to 0-1.
Canada gets to even their record against Cuba on Wednesday afternoon and if they can’t they have much bigger problems.
But if they didn’t know things might be different once the games were for keeps, rather than their Pan Am Games walk-through or the four-game exhibition series they swept in Puerto Rico, they surely knew it about midway through the second quarter when Argentina took control of the game and never really relinquished it. They then ran away with things at crunch time in the fourth quarter.
The other lesson? Argentina’s Luis Scola is awesome.
The man with the long hair and ground-bound game dropped 35 and 13 on the Canadians by going inside-and-out, up-and-under. Memo to any Canadian applicants: that’s how an international star gets it done.
Canada was led by Andrew Wiggins with 13 points, but no one really shone for the Red and White.
Which was part of the problem. When the games finally mattered, no one on the Canadian roster seemed prepared to meet the intensity Argentina delivered from the tip.
"Argentina controlled the tempo of the game, they shot the ball better, they just beat us in every aspect of the game," said Canadian head coach Jay Triano. "They got up and down the floor, we turned it over 13 times to give them 20 points. We prided ourselves on playing good defence. We prided ourselves on being a good rebounding team and we have been until this moment, but those two things were non-existent today."
Was it a young team unprepared for the moment, for the experience of playing against Argentina, the old man of FIBA Americas?
"This is the third time we’ve played against a lot of these guys and the second time we’ve played against Scola and Nocioni,” said Triano. "We know they’re veteran players, it’s good experience for us. I thought they controlled the game. It’s not the outcome we wanted. We beat them the last two times we played them, we beat them a week ago but this is the one that matters and they were more up to the test than we were today.
"I don’t know if it was our first game or fatigue level but they had more bounce than we had today."
There was a win to be had, but Canada was eventually undone by too many little plays not made to count.
Be it diminutive Brady Heslip allowing even smaller Nicolas Laprovittola to sneak in for an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter, or Canada letting Scola get his own rebound on misses, or Canada routinely failing to finish easy second chances at the rim or Wiggins being left out of the attack in the fourth quarter, Canada was the team absorbing the lessons.
For much of the game, school was in session. There was Scola — who made his senior national team debut for Argentina in 1999 — slipping a screen and leaving Canada flat-footed as he scored an easy lay-up.
There was Andres Nocioni who played for Argentina when they won a silver medal world championships in 2002 and an Olympic gold in 2004, wrestling, agitating, complaining and generally making a nuisance of himself in between knocking down the odd triple.
And there was Laprovittola, unknown to most basketball observers whose focus rarely drifts from the NBA, consistently shredding Canada’s defence. He wears a hipster’s beard but has a slick game, has dominated the professional league in Argentina and will be playing for Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania this coming season.
He looked like the second-coming of Manu Ginobilli to Canada as he finished with with 20 points — 13 in the first half as Argentina turned a 20-17 Canadian lead after the first quarter into a 46-41 halftime lead.
And there was a lesson too: Canada has players with NBA pedigree, but it’s a big world out there and guys like Laprovittola are reminders that there are a lot of excellent players outside the narrow confines of the NBA.
"It’s probably a good wake-up call for us, that this happened now,” said Canada’s Brady Heslip, one of the few players on the roster without NBA ties. “The guys that haven’t been down here before, they’ll see there are not going to be any easy games. Every team has a guy like [Laprovittola] — these guys have never heard of him, he’s not an NBA player, but he’s a high-level player. He’s very good and very effective.”
Had their been script writers on staff at FIBA America’s HQ they couldn’t have come up with a better opening match-up for Canada as they embarked on what everyone hopes will be a decade in which Canada regularly challenges for medals internationally.
It was Argentina that proved that the U.S. could be had with their “Generacion Dorada" and now its Canada trying to repeat the feat with their own “Golden Generation.”
There is no arguing Canada’s talent — no country outside the U.S. boasts as much players that come stamped with NBA approval — but the question that will linger until it is answered is can a group of young players with little familiarity with the international game and limited experience playing together under the Maple Leaf learn enough on the fly to reach their potential?
Through three quarters in their opening match of the FIBA Americas Championship the answer seemed to be no, not yet.
What they needed was someone from their talented group to step up and make some plays. There were signs. Frustrated by Scola dominating in the low-block Canadian head coach Jay Triano turned to little-used Los Angeles Lakers big Robert Sacre to change the tone.
Sacre drew an offensive foul and then a charge in quick succession late in the third quarter, but Andrew Nicholson travelled in the post and Laprovittola took advantage of the turnover to finish the period with a triple and instead of heading into the fourth quarter tied, Canada trailed 71-66.