MANILA, Philippines — An NBA game broke out at the FIBA World Cup on Sunday, with Team USA and Team Canada falling into the high-octane, free-flowing, star vs. star game they are so comfortable with in a fun goodbye to the league-obsessed Filipinos.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander played his superstar role, scoring seven of his 31 points to start overtime and eventually power Canada’s 127-118 victory to claim the bronze medal.
Canada also got a statement game, loudly and unexpectedly, from Dillon Brooks, who scored 39 points as part of a shooting masterpiece.
Mikal Bridges provided an iconic moment for Team USA when he finished a jaw-dropping four-point play by missing a free throw on purpose, chasing down the rebound and then spinning and firing in a 3-pointer with 0.6 seconds left in the fourth quarter to forge a miraculous tie. Bridges had 19 points and gave everything he had defending Gilgeous-Alexander all evening.
It was only a reprieve, though. The memory of this day will be more enjoyed by the Canadians, who won their first major international medal in 87 years. The last time Canada took home basketball hardware was silver at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
The U.S. failed to medal in its second consecutive World Cup, the first time that has happened since 1970. The Americans were hampered by not having starting center Jaren Jackson Jr. and reserves Brandon Ingram and Paolo Banchero due to illness.
Team USA limped to the finish, losing three of its last four games. The defense crumbled along the way, first because of extra possessions allowed by offensive rebounds and eventually falling under a crushing barrage of 3-pointers as the Americans struggled to get out to shooters as they tried to pack the paint. They allowed an average of 117 points in the losses.
“We just didn’t defend well enough against Germany [in the semifinals] or against Canada, and that’s the bottom line,” Team USA coach Steve Kerr said. “Every year when you try to build a team, you try to build the best two-way team you can and be able to get stops and score, and everybody’s trying to do that.”
Including the 2019 World Cup and the 2021 Olympics, where Team USA won gold, the Americans have now lost seven times. The roster this summer that focused on quickness and versatility has simply proved ineffective.
Executive director Grant Hill, general manager Sean Ford and Kerr felt good about the team’s prospects and had reason to after a good pre-tournament performance. But they will have to return to the drawing board, and the star player recruiting trail, for next year’s Paris Olympics.
“We’ve really studied everything about FIBA and the history of United States basketball when we’ve won, what has been the reason and when we’ve lost what has been the reason,” Kerr said. “So we study all that stuff, and what it comes down to for us in this tournament, we put ourselves in a great position. We got to the semifinals and were right there.”
Kerr, determined to make small ball work, eventually decided to start playing five guards and wings with the “big man” being 6-foot-5 Josh Hart. When Hart fouled out, Kerr replaced him with 6-foot-1 Jalen Brunson to go even smaller. Kerr played most of the game’s last 10 minutes this way and nearly pulled out the win.
At that point, though, it would have felt like an upset.
Brooks’ final three games in Manila were strong at both ends. The Americans know Brooks’ reputation as an inconsistent outside shooter, but it proved to be a mistake to give him space. He went 7-of-8 from 3 and scored 21 points in a sizzling first half, galloping and chirping all the way, as is his trademark.
The crowd, which had jeered him earlier in the week because he is a rival of their beloved Los Angeles Lakers, flipped and was giving Brooks “MVP” chants at several points.
“It was so enjoyable. Obviously the hate doesn’t stop, it keeps going,” said Brooks, who signed a four-year, $86 million deal this summer with the Houston Rockets. “It’s hard to battle against the world and a team.”
Brooks’ mention of “a team” was probably a vague reference to the Memphis Grizzlies, who decided to part ways with him after last season.
Brooks also battled Anthony Edwards on defense, and their showdown delighted the crowd. Edwards finished with 24 points in what was a strong overall showing in the World Cup.
“We can’t get no stops, so I don’t know what we could have done,” Edwards said. “Our defense is pretty bad.”
Austin Reaves closed his excellent offensive tournament with 23 points for Team USA, while RJ Barrett added 23 points for Canada.
But the main reason the Canadians are flying home with a medal was Gilgeous-Alexander, who also had 12 assists and six rebounds Sunday and finished the event averaging 24.5 points, 6.4 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game on 54% shooting.
“He kills everybody in the league. He’s one day probably going to be in race for MVP,” Reaves said. “You’ve got to give him his flowers.”