Team Canada was in tough against a physical squad from New Zealand on Saturday, but once again the Toronto Raptors Cory Joseph was there to pick up the scoring load and lead his team with a game-high 23 points and 4 assists. Canada securing the 78-72 win with a 6-1 run over the final 3.5 minutes.
The Tall Blacks strategy was obvious from the jump. Hit, hold and foul at every opportunity and they made it tough on the referees to call everything. New Zealand was tagged with 27 personal fouls and Canada was sent to the free throw line 25 times, but it didn’t cost New Zealand. The Canadians missed 11 free throws and failed to take advantage of their opportunities to build a lead that would have made this a much easier game.
New Zealand also took advantage of Canada on the perimeter, hitting on 11-29 three-point attempts. Canada, on the other hand, continued with their tournament long struggles from the outside hitting just 4-20 from three. The usually reliable Brady Heslip failed to connect from deep for the second game in a row going 0-3. Anthony Bennett was 1-5, Thomas Scrubb and Joseph both went 1-4.
Where Canada found their advantage was in the paint as Melvin Ejim (13 points, 7 rebounds, 2 blocks) and Tristan Thompson (13 points, 10 rebounds) embraced the physical play. In limited minutes Khem Birch (6 points, 5 rebounds) came in and impacted the game with his size and toughness. The trio accounting for 12 of Canada’s 18 offensive boards.
With the win Canada advances to the tournament final to play the winner of France versus Turkey at 9am ET on Sunday. Canada defeated Turkey earlier in the tournament 77-69. In Pool play, France trailed New Zealand by 10 points after three quarters, but came away with the 66-59 victory with a huge fourth quarter.
Tournament favorite France is led by the San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker and Boris Diaw, the Denver Nuggets Joffery Lauvergne and Euroleague MVP Nando De Colo.
The winner on Sunday goes to Rio to play in the 2016 Summer Olympics.