Canada (2-0) vs. Czech Republic (1-1)
When: Saturday, July 3, 4:05 p.m. ET
Where: Victoria Memorial Arena, Victoria, B.C.
Where things stand:
Enter the semifinal: After earning wins over China and Greece in the group phase of the tournament, Canada is now in the semifinals where they will face the Czech Republic. To advance to the tournament finals, Canada will need to defeat Czech Republic. To earn their ticket to Tokyo, Canada would also need a win in the finals, which will be played on Sunday at 4:05 PM ET, where they would face the winner between Saturday’s Greece and Turkey game.
Though Canada has taken care of business in the group phase, the team knows the challenge now is to continue taking things one day -- and one game -- at a time.
“We’re here with one goal and that’s to win games,” Dwight Powell said. “That’s our primary focus and I guess some of the positive energy is around the opportunity we have to win games. First and foremost, the fact we get to play the game we love for our country is already going to put a pep in our step and have us motivated to work even harder and compete even harder but to have the opportunity here to win meaningful games in a situation where we could make it to the highest stage of international basketball in the Olympics [only increases that].”
Learning on the fly: This tournament is the first time this particular group of players has played together for Canada. While other teams in the tournament have played prep games against other competition, Canada was limited to playing against one another in training camp. As much as this tournament is about a chance to qualify for the Tokyo Olympics, it is also one of the first chances head coach Nick Nurse and the Team Canada coaching staff have had to coach and observe the team in action.
“We didn’t really know what this team looked like,” Nurse said. “It was gonna be a pretty sharp learning curve. We learned some things in the first half [against China] and got to the locker room and learned some things against Greece [as well]. I think we’re seeing a little bit more about how our team fits, the roles, what some guys are capable of, more things our team is capable of defensively, more things we’re capable of offensively, figuring out rotations as far as who’s in, who’s out, who fits together. There’s been a lot because we didn’t know anything. We’ve learned a lot. I think we’ve come a long way and still have a long way to go, if that makes any sense.”
Things to know heading into Semifinals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Victoria:
Tough task ahead: While Canada is continuing to get familiar in Victoria, they will be facing an experienced Czech Republic squad. While veterans Ondrej Balvin and Jan Vesely have each recorded double-doubles in the tournament, Canada’s NBA players have had experience playing against Tomas Satoransky who spent the past two NBA seasons playing for the Chicago Bulls in addition to playing for his national team. Satoransky is averaging 17.0 points per game in the tournament, to go along with 6.0 rebounds, 7.0 assists and a block per game.
“He's a skilled, veteran guard,” Powell said. “He knows how to play. Obviously, he knows how to play in the league, but also has a lot of international experience so we really have to focus on him. And all their guys, they're a good, strong team with a lot of players, a lot of experience at this level and in this game, so we need to respect that and pay close attention to our scout today and practice today, moving into tomorrow. He's a great player.”
Fans in the stands: Saturday’s game will mark Canada’s first game of the tournament where fans have been permitted to attend. Though the arena will only be 10 percent filled, getting to represent Canada in front of Canadian fans on Canadian soil is a big deal for a team that doesn’t often get this opportunity.
“Obviously, it's an honour to wear this jersey regardless of where it is and to compete for our country, but to be able to have support like that in our home country is something very special,” Dwight Powell said. “I've had the opportunity to do it once before and I can say it's a very unique feeling. So if it's 10 fans, if it's 1,000 fans, or if it's 20,000, regardless, it's a unique motivating factor that I think will take well.”
For head coach Nick Nurse, the best part about having fans start to return is what it signifies, more than 16 months into a global pandemic that has turned the entire world upside down.
“I think it's great that we're making some steps forward here in this situation, and doing the best we can with it,” Nurse said. “Getting fans back in the building is certainly a big step forward. I say this all the time, the Canadian fans, the Raptor fans are unbelievable, amazing, so I'm happy that they're gonna be back in the building.”
Saturday’s mindset: With a chance to go to the Tokyo Olympics on the line, of course there is pressure involved with this FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament, but Team Canada veteran Dwight Powell explained how the team is channeling that stress into motivation.
“When you're competing with your national team every game is do or die,” Powell said. “Whether there's something on the other side or not in the standings or in competition, I think the pride that all of us have in representing our country is there every single game. So every time we wake up, every single morning on a game day it's a do-or-die situation for us. So tomorrow we're going to wake up the same way we've woken up since Day 1 of camp and that's on the same page doing whatever we can to help each other compete at the highest level to win a game of basketball.”
Where to watch: Fans in Canada can catch all of the action live on CBC as well as CBC Gem and DAZN.