Team Canada went into the FIBA Americas Championship semifinals on a seven-game winning streak and as a heavy favorite to earn a spot in the 2016 Summer Olympics, but on Friday Venezuela pulled off a stunning upset to put Canada's Olympic dreams on hold. The two teams had met in the first round on September 3, with Canada cruising to a 20-point victory, but the second time around the upstart Venezuelans, who reached the semis despite going just 4-4 in the group stages, played their hearts out and earned the 79-78 win.
It was a disappointing end for a Canadian team that had not failed to score 80 points in any of its first eight games, in which it went 7-1. Turnovers in particular doomed Canada, as they lost the ball 17 times compared to Venezuela's 10. The starting five were especially anemic, with four of the starters combining to go 6-for-24 from the field.
The one bright spot was Celtics center Kelly Olynyk, who had his best game of the tournament with a huge 34-point, 13-rebound double double. Olynyk shot 11-for-13 from the field, including 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, and 9-of-10 from the free-throw line. His 34 points were the fourth-highest single-game total of the tournament, behind only Gustavo Ayón (38 against Argentina), J. J. Barea (37 against the Dominican Republic) and Luis Scola (35 against Canada).
You can see highlights of the game, and of the Venezuelan coach losing his mind, below:
Through nine games, Olynyk brought his averages to 12.1 points, 7.1 boards and 2.4 assists in 20.8 minutes per game, shooting a remarkable 61.7 percent from the floor, 42.9 percent from three-point territory and 85.7 percent at the line.
For Venezuela, the eighth-ranked team in the tournament according to FIBA rankings, with no big names on the roster, next year's will be their second Olympic appearance and first since 1992. They will face top-ranked Argentina for the continental crown on Saturday. Canada, meanwhile, will have to settle for a meaningless third-place game against host Mexico.
The Olympic dream isn't over yet, however. When the continental competitions end on October 3, nine of the twelve spots for the Rio Games will have been filled. So far, the six qualified teams are Olympic host Brazil, the world champion United States, Oceania champion Australia, African champion Nigeria and Americas finalists Argentina and Venezuela.
Next July, 18 teams will compete for the remaining three berths in a final qualifying event. Still, the competition there will be stiffer than it was in Mexico, as there will be a strong European presence. The Canadians will have to overcome the disappointment of missing their best shot at their first Olympic appearance in 16 years if they're going to earn their trip to Brazil.
Follow Nick García on Twitter @N_A_Garcia
Image credit: Daniel Cardenas/FIBA Americas/Imago7 Nick García 9/12/2015 09:44:00 AM Tweet Edit