BOSTON – For the past couple of years, the cry from our basketball neighbors to the North has been that this current incarnation of Canadian ballers has the potential to be the best this nation has ever produced.
We will all find out soon enough as Team Canada gears up for the FIBA Americas Qualifying Tournament in Mexico City. The top two finishers receive automatic bids to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. Canada has not qualified for the Olympics since 2000.
They boast a roster that’s comprised of nine NBA players, which includes Celtics forward/center Kelly Olynyk. As strong as they are, Team Canada would be even more formidable if they also had Tristan Thompson, whose contract negotiations with the Cleveland Cavaliers have been dragged out longer than anyone anticipated.
That said, the Canadian national team is still an overwhelming favorite in the FIBA tournament in Mexico City as they prepare to face Argentina today, which opened tournament play on Monday with a 91-86 win over Puerto Rico.
While Team Canada certainly has cornered the market when it comes to NBA talent in this tournament, there’s enough talent on other national teams that will challenge Team Canada.
Olynyk, heading into his third season with the Celtics, will be one of several Canadian players who will be looked upon by Team Canada to step up and be a significant contributor.
There are only four current NBA players (Luis Scola of Argentina; J.J. Barea of Puerto Rico; Jorge Gutierrez of Mexico and Francisco Garcia of the Dominican Republic) in the tournament who do not play for Canada.
Of those four, the 6-foot-9 Scola is the only non-guard of the group which means at some point he’ll be matched up against Olynyk.
Now with the Toronto Raptors, here’s a look at how Scola fared this past season (then with the Indiana Pacers) in games against Olynyk.
Nov. 7, 2014:
Final: Boston 101, Indiana 98
Scola’s stat line: 13 points (6-for-12 shooting), 8 rebounds, 1 assist.
Olynyk’s stat line: 12 points (5-for-7 shooting), 5 rebounds, 2 assists.
Game summary: Jeff Green’s two free throws in the final seconds sealed the victory, but the moment most remember from this game was the ankle injury suffered by Marcus Smart. Only a handful of games into his pro career at the time, Smart would miss Boston’s next 10 games and 13 of 18 with the ankle-related injury.
Jan. 9, 2015
Final: Indiana 107, Boston 103 OT
Scola’s stat line: 14 points (5-for-12 shooting), 5 rebounds, 1 assists.
Olynyk’s stat line: 13 points (5-for-10 shooting), 6 rebounds, 1 assist.
Game summary: Indiana did just enough to squeak out a win over an extremely short-handed Celtics squad. Shortly before tip-off, the Celtics traded Brandan Wright to Phoenix. In addition, they held their leading scorer Jeff Green out whose trade to Memphis was nearing completion. Avery Bradley led the Celtics with 23 points, but Roy Hibbert was a dominant force in the paint with 19 points, 11 rebounds and 5 blocked shots as the Pacers held on for the victory.
March 14, 2015
Final: Boston 93, Indiana 89
Scola’s stat line: 4 points (2-for-7 shooting), 6 rebounds
Olynyk’s stat line: 2 points (1-for-6 shooting), 5 rebounds, 5 assists.
Summary: Indiana native Tyler Zeller returned home and delivered one of his best scoring outings of the season with 18 points. Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder each chipped in 16 points while the Pacers saw their season-high seven game winning streak come to a screeching halt. It would in many ways signal the beginning of the Pacers’ late season swoon that ultimately ended with them failing to make the playoffs.
April 1, 2015
Final: Boston 100, Indiana 87
Scola’s stat line: 7 points (2-for-7 shooting), 2 rebounds, 1 assist.
Olynyk’s stat line: 19 points (7-for-10 shooting), 2 rebounds, 2 assists.
Summary: This Celtics win not only gave Boston the season tie-breaker over the Pacers, but it was also memorable for Olynyk playing – and playing well I might add – within hours after getting his eye blackened after catching a blow in the team’s pregame shootaround.