Team Canada entered the 2015 FIBA Americas Championship as a dark horse candidate to qualify for the 2016 Summer Olympics, but after stringing together six consecutive wins, they are now heavy favorites to reach their first Olympics since 2000. Celtics center Kelly Olynyk has been a key part of the Canadians' remarkable run, shooting better than 50 percent and leading the team in rebounding.
Canada's only loss was in the opener, 94-87 to tournament favorite Argentina, which was led by Raptors power forward Luis Scola's big double double: 35 points and 13 rebounds. Olynyk pulled down 10 boards in that game, the first of four in which he led the team. After that lone defeat, Canada cruised past Cuba, Venezuela and Puerto Rico to finish second in Group B with a 3-1 record.
In the second round, Canada won all four games by double digits, including handing host Mexico its only loss and beating Panama, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic on the way. On Wednesday, Mexico's 95-83 victory over Argentina, thanks to a 38-point, 14-rebound outburst from former NBA PF Gustavo Ayón, handed Canada the top seed going into the semifinals.
All three teams are tied with identical 7-1 records, but Canada's +135 point differential is more than three times better than the next best. Through the first eight games, Olynyk has averaged 9.4 points, 6.4 boards and 2.5 assists, shooting 55.3 percent from the floor and 83.3 percent from the free-throw line.
In Friday's semifinal, Canada will once again face Venezuela, which it beat 82-62 in the first round. The Venezuelans have already exceeded expectations by making it to this point with a 4-4 record. Argentina and Mexico will have their own rematch in the second semi.
Both finalists will qualify for next summer's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, while the two losers, along with fifth-place Puerto Rico, will have to play a qualifying tournament in July. Canada has not reached the continental final since the 1999 Tournament of the Americas, the precursor to today's competition, and has never won it all.
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Photo credit: José Jiménez/FIBA Americas Nick García 9/10/2015 11:59:00 AM Tweet Edit