In the end, it was Cory Joseph leading Canada past Mexico 89-67, but the game didn’t start out that way and the result was in doubt well into the fourth quarter.
Canada came out like they had never played this game before as bad turnovers by Tristan Thompson, Andrew Nicholson and Andy Rautins staked Mexico to an early 7-2 lead. Only the aggressiveness of Joseph driving to the rim provided any indication that this was the same team that had demolished Uruguay less than two days ago. Once Canada found their bearings, however, the game started to turn and their own 8-2 run put Canada back on top. Andrew Nicholson couldn’t miss in the first quarter and went 3-3 for 8 points. Thompson didn’t have much impact offensively today, but he shut down Mexico’s leading scorer Gustavo Ayon in the opening quarter.
Canada started the second quarter with a 21-18 lead, but missed their first six shots before Joseph put them ahead to stay with back-to-back three-pointers for a 27-20 lead. Fortunately, Mexico wasn’t fairing any better offensively. Joseph led Canada at the half in scoring with 12 points followed by Nicholson with 11 points on 4-4 shooting. The only player stopping Nicholson in the first half was himself as he kept picking up silly fouls. The quarter ended with Canada up 40-31 on a Jermaine Anderson long range bomb that refused to fall out.
Mexico opened the second half with 8 unanswered points as Ayon scored 6 points and Canada only managed a turnover, 2 personal fouls and 2 missed shots to start. Rautins broke Mexico’s run with a long range three-pointer that re-established a 4 point lead for Canada and then 3 three-pointers by Brady Heslip put Canada back up by 9. Mexico refused to go away in the third quarter, however, and this game was 60-58 at the start of the final frame.
The fourth quarter started slow and sloppy, but once Canada got up by 10 on a pair of three-pointers from Rautins, the rout was on. Canada outscored Mexico 29-9 in the fourth quarter to win this game going away by 22 points. This game was a remarkable display of long range shooting as Canada went 16-28 from deep led by Heslip (5), Rautins (4) and Joseph (3).
It might have been easy to overlook Joseph’s contributions on this afternoon with Rautins (19) and Heslip (21) putting on a show from long range in the second half, but Canada stayed in this contest because of Joseph’s aggressive play and the young guard finished with 17 points on 6-12 shooting, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. The FIBA Americas tournament has been quite the coming out party for the Spurs backup point guard.
The Hawks recently acquired free agent big man Ayon continues to impress at this tournament beyond all reasonable expectations. He may have started slow today, but he finished strong and was almost able to keep Mexico in this game. Ayon had 19 points on 7-12 shooting to go with 11 rebounds, 2 steals and a block. Thompson, who kept Ayon in check for one quarter, ended up with 7 points on 3-12 shooting, but he did pull in a game high 12 boards.
Canada now sits atop of the second round standings with 3 wins and a loss ( 2 wins and a loss were carried forward from the preliminary round) pending the results of the two later games on Thursday. Their points-differential of +53 puts them well ahead of the other 7 teams in case of tie-breakers.
Canada faces Venezuela on Friday at 5:30pm ET, the Dominican Republic on Saturday and on Sunday Argentina.
Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.
You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors