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USA vs. Canada FIBA Preview: The battle for bronze

For both USA basketball and Canada, Sunday is not just going to be a battle for the bronze medal, but also for pride — and to avoid the embarrassment of not placing in this year’s World Cup.

2023 FIBA World Cup - USA Men’s National Team v Germany Photo by Stephen Gosling/NBAE via Getty Images

MANILA, Philippines — What was anticipated to be the matchup of the FIBA World Cup turned out to be the battle for bronze, as the United States will face Canada following their semifinals loss to Germany on Friday. This will be the last game of the tournament for both teams, who are hoping to at the very least conclude their summer with a podium finish.

The fact that both American-based squads are playing before the gold medal battle — which will feature Germany and Serbia, two European teams — says a lot about the current state of the global basketball scene.

This tournament proved that the days of opponents fearing Team USA (at least in the World Cup) are well and truly over; the U.S. no longer holds the status of undisputed kings of world basketball. Maybe that will change in the upcoming 2024 Summer Olympics in Paris, but one takeaway from Team USA’s stint in this year’s FIBA World Cup is that their competition has significantly improved and become a threat to them.

Take it from Steve Kerr himself, who admitted it after their disappointing defeat against Germany.

“It means the game has been globalized over the last 30 years or so. These games are difficult. This is not 1992 anymore. Players are better all over the world, teams are better and it’s not easy to win a World Cup or an Olympic game,” the U.S. head coach stated in his postgame presser.

Team USA won’t be departing Manila with a gold medal after Sunday’s showdown against Canada, but will instead depart — no matter the result — with integral realizations and lessons about the current state of their basketball program and where it’s headed.

The common fear that many had for this U.S. roster was that they had no continuity, something that turned out to hurt them in the semifinals. It’s one of the biggest reasons why Team USA isn’t part of the main event of the World Cup on Sunday.

When asked about whether there’s a solution to fix their current issue, Kerr implied that the team’s discontinuity might just remain an obstacle for the program moving forward. But at the very least, one thing worth noting is that they have a roster of talented participants who are ready to suit up for the United States.

“I’m not sure how you would do that, if you ask the same 10 guys to play every summer. I think that’s very unrealistic. I love being part of USA Basketball (USAB). I think our players really enjoy it as well and part of the deal with USAB is you pass on the baton to the next coaching staff and the next group of players. It’s different than most countries but we’re unique and we have a deep talent pool and a lot of worthy players. I think those players and coaches all deserve to have the honor to wear this USA jersey,” Kerr said.

But for now, though, all eyes will remain on this current talented USA roster who have one more task ahead of them. A Canadian team, which features seven NBA players, stands in their way as they too, are also coming off a disheartening loss against Serbia in the semifinals.

For these two teams, It’s not just going to be a battle for the bronze medal but also for pride and to avoid the embarrassment of not placing in the World Cup — after being considered two of the favorites to win it all.

On to Canada

After the loss to Germany on Friday, Utah Jazz big man Walker Kessler said that the team was obviously upset and that there weren’t a lot of words spoken among each other for the rest of the night. That’s not to say that Team USA didn’t want anything to do with each other, but it was clear that they believed that they could’ve performed better as a unit.

That’s why Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis — who both addressed the media on Saturday’s team practice (their last of the tournament) — implied this game against Canada is another opportunity to see how the team responds after a tough loss and represent the United States one last time together.

The common goal, according to both Reaves and Portis, is to still compete at a high level.

The challenge that Canada presents is that they’re just as good as Team USA, which means this matchup could go either way once again. The Canadians are blessed with the talent of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (SGA), who powers their offense. They have a pesky perimeter defender in Dillon Brooks (yes, FIBA Brooks is a thing) and shooters who can get hot anytime.

The key for the Americans is to do what Serbia did against Canada, which is to let everyone but SGA beat them. Canada’s offense slightly underperforms when their superstar takes a breather but they’re also a deadly transition team like the United States. It’s surely going to be a battle between two talented teams who want their end the tournament on a high note.

We’ll see which one brings home the bronze medal on Sunday as the FIBA World Cup comes to a close.

Notes and Updates:

  • Brandon Ingram, who missed the semifinals against Germany due to respiratory illness, will reportedly not suit up again on Sunday against Canada.
  • USA and Canada have faced each other seven times since their first-ever match in 1954. The Americans have won all of those seven games, so it won’t be a surprise if Canada is extra motivated to finally end that streak on Sunday.
  • Sunday’s bronze medal match will feature 19 NBA players from 13 different teams.
  • The USA men’s basketball team is appearing in their fourth third-place game at the FIBA Men’s World Cup. They’ve won all their third-place games so far.

Set your alarms for this one, because Team USA and Germany will tip off at 1:30 a.m. PT on Sunday, Sept. 9. The game will be exclusively televised on ESPN2.

You can follow Nicole on Twitter at @nicoleganglani

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