Coming into the last game of the second round robin, team Canada, led by Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson and Andrew Nicholson, was in control of its destiny: Beat Argentina and qualify or lose and go home. Argentina was facing the same situation, so this game had a playoff feel to it. After controlling the game for three quarters, the Canadians couldn't close it and Argentina rode ridiculous performances by Luis Scola and shooting guard Selem Safar to pull out a win and a slot in Spain 2014
Joseph had a very good game, finishing with 19 points, four rebounds and two assists while providing leadership beyond his years. Those numbers were not an anomaly, either, as Joseph came into the game with averages of 16.1 points (56.6% FGs), 5.5 rebounds and 4.4 assists per game, which made him one of the most productive players in attendance. His steady hand and excellent shooting played a huge part in the success Canada enjoyed early in the tournament and he seemed to thrive in his larger role. We will have a more detailed account of his performance later this week, but it was truly encouraging to see the young point guard do so well against quality competition.
Luis Scola kept Argentina in the game with a fantastic 28 points, seven rebound performance including a mesmerizing stretch in the third quarter in which he couldn't miss, leading Argentina to a 29 point quarter that changed the momentum of the game. Brazil's guards Facundo Campazzo and Selem Safar contributed ten points, seven assists and 18 points on 4-6 shooting from deep, respectively.
For team Canada, Orlando Magic's Andrew Nicholson scored an inefficient 17 points in 19 shots and Tristan Thompson chipped in eight points and ten rebounds but the rest of the team couldn't contribute and their offense ended up devolving into a series of one on one attacks that Argentina defended smartly.
There is still hope for Canada to receive an invitation from FIBA to participate in the World Cup. But the Americas usually only receive one slot this way, and it's very hard to imagine Brazil being spurned, despite their disappointing performance. A case could be made that the Canadians have earned it by committing to the qualifiers while Brazil didn't suit any of its stars. The way that Steve Nash runs the Canadian program could help but it will probably not be enough.
It's a shame, because it would also benefit FIBA to introduce this new generation of young players to the world as the Canadian national team seems poised to take over for Argentina as the second power in the region behind the US. Joseph, Thompson, Nicholson, Joel Anthony and Andy Rautins could be joined in the near future by Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins, among others, to form a very talented and athletic squad so the future definitely seems bright for team Canada. It will just take a little longer to arrive.
As for Argentina, it still remains to be seen whether Manu Ginobili will decide to play in the World Cup or choose to retire from international competition. On the one hand, with the team doing well without him, Pablo Prigioni, Carlos Delfino and Andres Nocioni Manu could forgo playing with the national team without fearing it will cause the program to crumble. On the other hand, this win could actually energize him to suit up again. Along with the once again dominant play of Scola, there were also a couple of youngsters who emerged as good offensive options that could help carry the burden. We will have to wait and see.
The four teams that qualified to the World Cup from America are Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Australia and New Zealand will represent Oceania. Angola, Senegal and Egypt will represent Africa. Iran, South Korea and the Philippines will represent Asia. The US and Spain are already qualified as the last Olympic champion and the host country, respectively. There are still four spots to be filled by the best teams in Eurobasket (currently underway) and then FIBA will make who will receive invitations public.