The Canadian women's basketball team opened Tokyo 2020 with a 72-68 loss to Serbia in the first game of the group stage.
Serbia came in as the favourites having secured bronze at Rio 2016 and winning Eurobasket 2021, but Canada gave them a run for their money. It was a narrow game in the fourth with Serbia pulling ahead thanks to four threes in the quarter, but Canada had multiple chances in the final two minutes to tie or pull ahead, including having the ball down three with 13 seconds left. Serbia made fewer errors down the stretch which ultimately got them the win.
Here are three takeaways from the game:
Canada were the underdogs, but they only have themselves to blame for this loss having committed a litany of errors down the stretch which handed Serbia the win. Despite having multiple chances to pull ahead, the Canadians kept getting in their own way with unforced errors.
The first came from Bridget Carleton, who was instrumental in getting Canada back into the game with a flurry of plays to start the fourth. Carleton found herself in the post switched onto a bigger player, but was able to draw an offensive foul by catching an elbow to the head. The play was reviewed as a flagrant, which gave Carleton two shots and the ball in a four-point game. The 71 percent shooter clanked both freebies, then on the ensuing inbound, Carleton drove blindly into two defenders and committed a turnover, which kept Serbia up four with two minutes to go.
Nirra Fields made two huge errors of her own despite giving Canada a lifeline with a late three. Canada's leading scorer was leading a 3-on-2 fast break but threw the pass behind which spilled out of bounds with less than two minutes to go. Fields then had the ball in a three-point game with 35 seconds left, but as she was trying to initiate the play, she was penalized on a push-off trying to shield herself from the defender, which cost Canada a golden opportunity to either tie or eat into the lead.
There were also mistakes made as a team. On a missed shot down two with 45 seconds left, all five Canadians made a desperate attempt to pressure the ball in Serbia's half hoping for a steal, but this completely threw off their floor balance. Serbian guard Jelena Brooks smartly raced ahead of the floor for an uncontested layup to push the lead back to four.
The Serbians were hardly faultless in their own execution, as Canada should have stole this result just off turnovers. Canada's strategy was to press all game, springing aggressive traps at Serbia as soon as they crossed half, and the results were staggering. Canada forced 28 turnovers in a 40-minute game which resulted in Canada having 11 more field-goal attempts and eight more free throws.
Canada was able to win the transition battle with no less than a half-dozen runout layups, but that wasn't enough to make up for their inability to score in halfcourt settings. Canada moved the ball unselfishly and created open looks for their main players, but they just couldn't capitalize. Carleton and Kia Nurse played 33 and 39 minutes respectively, but they shot a combined 9-for-28 from the floor including just 1-for-11 on threes. Nurse's aggression was strong and her decision making was mostly fine, but Carleton was shaky outside of a spurt to start the fourth.
Their ability to compete with Serbia despite poor shooting from their main guards is a testament to Canadian coach Lisa Thomaidis' tactics. She picked a roster full of young and lively wings who were able to sustain their pressure for the full four quarters, and that is how Canada can upset the favourites in this tournament. If they can get a few more open jumpers to fall, while still maintaining the same intensity on defence, Canada can beat anybody.
Path to advancing
Canada faces an uphill challenge in the group. Their next game against South Korea is tricky but manageable, and it's a must-win given that Spain will be their final challenge in the group stage. Spain won silver at Rio 2016 and Canada will be the underdogs yet again. Two wins would guarantee Canada's spot in the quarterfinals, although a narrow loss might still keep them alive as one of the best third-place teams.
One of their main concerns after the opening game loss to Serbia will be the health and availability of guard Shay Colley, who had 12 points in 13 minutes before exiting with injury. Colley hit the deck hard diving for a loose ball and looked to jam her right shoulder. She was in visible distress on the bench and was taped up by the end of the game.
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