BOSTON (CBS) – Despite the superb play of Kelly Olynyk, the Canadian national basketball team fell short of qualifying for an Olympic berth in the FIBA Americas tournament this past weekend.
A loaded roster featuring NBA players such as Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins, and Nik Stauskas, along with Olynyk, was heavily favored to nab one of the two tickets to the 2016 Olympics by advancing to the finals of the qualifying tournament. Canada cruised through the opening rounds of the Americas, losing just one game to co-favorite Argentina in pool play before Friday’s semifinal matchup against Venezuela in the elimination stage.
The South American squad had no NBA players on their roster, but still managed to hang with Canada since outside of Olynyk (game-high 34 points), none of Canada’s young talent was at their best in the crucial contest. The seven-footer carried his teammates to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter before a late-game collapse ensued. Venezuela hit a couple three-point shots to close the gap, while a panicked Canadian squad continued to turn the ball over.
Ultimately, a controversial loose ball foul called against Brady Heslip gave Venezuela two free throws and a 79-78 lead with just 0.3 seconds remaining in the contest, which proved to be the difference.
While Olynyk and his teammates were understandably frustrated by falling short in their quest to earn a ticket to Rio, Celtics fans should be encouraged by Olynyk’s performance in Mexico City.
The 34-point performance in a crucial contest was one of the best games by any player in the tournament, highlighted by magnificent shooting (11-of-13 from the field) and stellar rebounding (13 boards). The career night was a fitting exclamation point on a solid two weeks of play by Olynyk in Mexico City.
After a rusty effort in his return from a knee injury in Canada’s tournament opener against Argentina, Olynyk was one of his country’s most consistent performers throughout the tournament. The 24-year-old averaged 11.9 points and 7.5 rebounds in just over 20 minutes per game.
He shot a scorching 60 percent from the field and over 40 percent from three-point range. Most of it came against inferior competition, but you can still chalk the play up as a strong step forward for the big man as he enters a crucial season with the Celtics.
Olynyk’s dreams of making the Olympics have not come to a complete end either. Team Canada will have one final chance to qualify next summer in a tournament against teams from all over the world. In all likelihood, the competition will be stiffer than Venezuela, so Olynyk will probably take little solace in his progress on the court, knowing he and his Canadian teammates have a tall task awaiting them next summer.
Brian Robb covers the Celtics for CBS Boston and contributes to NBA.com, among other media outlets. You can follow him on Twitter @CelticsHub.