MIKAL BRIDGES pulled off an overtime-forcing miracle. It wasn’t enough to keep the US from heading home from the World Cup empty-handed, and after 87 years of waiting Canada has again medaled on one of basketball’s biggest stages.
Dillon Brooks scored 39 points, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander added 31 points and 12 assists and Canada won its first medal at a global men’s tournament since 1936 by topping the US, 127-118, in the third-place game in Manila on Sunday.
The US failed to medal for the second consecutive World Cup. It’s only the seventh time in 38 appearances at the Olympic or World Cup level that an American team did not emerge with gold, silver or bronze.
“The United States hasn’t won the World Cup since 2014,” US coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s hard. These teams in FIBA are really good, well-coached, they’ve got continuity and they’ve played together for a long time. This is difficult and it’s been difficult already.”
The Americans were the favorites coming into the tournament, then lost three of their last four games. They left the floor for the final time in Manila frustrated, angry, disappointed.
“All of the above,” US guard Tyrese Haliburton said.
RJ Barrett scored 23 for Canada (6-2), which improved to 2-21 all-time against the US in FIBA senior men’s competitions. The lone previous win came at a FIBA Americas event in 2005, a game that wasn’t loaded with big-name National Basketball Association (NBA) players. This one was, Canada having seven on its roster and the US having all 12 of its players hail from the league.
But three of those US players — Brandon Ingram, Paolo Banchero and Jaren Jackson Jr. — missed Sunday’s game with illness. Anthony Edwards led the Americans (5-3) with 24 points, Austin Reaves scored 23 and Bridges had 19 for the US
“This team was amazing, special,” Canada coach Jordi Fernandez said. “It’s the beginning of something that’s going to last for a long time.”
Bridges pulled off an unbelievable play in the final seconds of regulation, going to the line with the US down by four with 4.2 seconds left and needing a miracle.
He delivered one.
Bridges made the first free throw, intentionally missed the second and ran down the rebound as it bounced toward the right corner. Bridges corralled the ball, spun and let fly from just behind the 3-point line.
Swish. Game tied with 0.6 seconds left. Kelly Olynyk nearly won it for Canada on the final play of regulation with a 30-footer that hit the back iron as time expired, and to overtime they went, tied at 111-111.
“Just tried to miss it right. That’s kind of where you want the ball to be at in situations like that,” Bridges said. “Just read and react … went and shot it.”
But Canada was undeterred, never trailing in the extra session.
“We won the first 40 minutes. Well, obviously not, but we won the majority of the first 40 minutes and we didn’t think it was a fluke,” Gilgeous-Alexander said. “So, we just tried to focus on winning the next five.”
That’s exactly what they did, and now it’s over. Another World Cup, another debacle for the Americans. They finished seventh in China four years ago, fourth in Manila — losing three of their final four games — and now have less than 12 months to regroup for the Paris Games and the quest to win a fifth consecutive Olympic gold medal.
“Super tough, but can’t win them all,” Edwards said. “Came up short, twice.”
That would be twice in the medal round, against Germany and now Canada, and once more against Lithuania in the second round — where the undoing of this US World Cup run started.
There just wasn’t enough defense, once again. This tournament marked the first Olympic or World Cup appearance where a US team gave up at least 100 points three different times. The Americans went 0-3 in those games in Manila, losing to Lithuania, Germany in the semis and Canada on Sunday.
“I mean, we couldn’t get no stops,” Edwards said. “Our defense was pretty bad.”
Canada’s only other medal in a tournament of this magnitude — World Cup or Olympics — came in 1936, when it lost 19-8 to the US in the gold-medal matchup at the Berlin Games. That final was played outside, in a rainstorm, on a clay court that probably would have been better served that day as a slip-and-slide.
This was for bronze, not silver. But it’s safe to say Canada enjoyed it even more than that better finish 87 years ago.
“We really wanted to play the US,” Brooks said. “We got our wish.”
Image credits: AP