Basketball: Tall Blacks' Olympic hopes dashed by Canada

By Niall Anderson

Canada 78 Tall Blacks 72
Canada's Cory Joseph drives past Thomas Abercrombie. Photo / Getty
Canada's Cory Joseph drives past Thomas Abercrombie. Photo / Getty

The Tall Blacks' Olympic dream is over.

Requiring two more victories to book a spot amongst the world heavyweights at Rio, the Tall Blacks were edged 78-72 by Canada in their Olympic qualifying semifinal overnight.

As usual, it was a dogged display from the undersized New Zealanders, but a key injury to Isaac Fotu mixed with Canadian class saw them lose pace with the NBA-laden Canucks in the final minute of the clash.

In reality, securing the sole Olympic spot was always going to be a difficult proposition. The Tall Blacks were installed as $81 outsiders to qualify, and acquitted themselves well by beating the Philippines and frightening the fifth-ranked French in pool play.

They needed a performance of similar quality against Canada, and received another classy display from the Webster brothers - Tai (15 points and 10 rebounds) and Corey (21 points) - who have come away from the tournament with their reputations enhanced.

The pair kickstarted the game for the Tall Blacks, which, compared to the defensive battle against France, contained a refreshingly up-tempo beginning with both teams happy to push the pace in a high scoring first quarter.

The pace remained in the second, but the scoring dried up, as the Tall Blacks struggled to score in the paint against length of Canadian big man duo Tristan Thompson and Anthony Bennett.

That difficulty intensified with the second quarter injury to Fotu lengthening the already considerable odds of victory. Fotu's switch into a hoodie on the bench coincided with the middle of a 16-3 Canadian run, and forced the Tall Blacks into even smaller lineups than their already undersized unit.

The move was a considered one from head coach Paul Henare, with the Tall Blacks giving up a disadvantage on the glass to space the floor and fire away from deep.

Added emphasis went on the Webster brothers, who combined to drag the game back to a halftime deadlock, tied at 42 apiece.

Without the versatile athleticism of Fotu, the comparatively ground-bound Tall Blacks big men lost a step against the springier Canadians, but battled hard to stay in touch on the glass. Offensively, the Tall Blacks were profiting with their three-point shooting, connecting at a 38% rate to keep pace with Canada's inside game.

Canada were led all night by Toronto Raptors guard Cory Joseph (23 points, five rebounds and four assists), but the Tall Blacks' manic attention to detail and execution held the scoreline within two points with just two minutes remaining.

With Fotu in street clothes and back-up centre Rob Loe fouled out as a result of the extra workload, the Tall Blacks' lack of size eventually came back to hurt them at the death.

The deciding play came down three with 20 seconds to go, with Canadian big man Melvin Ejim managing to claim a vital offensive rebound, converting the bucket and drawing the and-one foul to put the game of out reach and send the Tall Blacks home.

Canada 78 (Joseph 23, Thompson 13/10, Ejim 13/7)
Tall Blacks 72 (C. Webster 21, Abercrombie 16/6, T. Webster 15/10/4)

- NZ Herald

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