Canada drops 108-92 decision to Australia in FIBA World Cup opener

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Canada’s men’s basketball team opened the FIBA World Cup with a 108-92 loss to Australia on Sunday in Dongguan, China — and now face a massive task in its goal of advancing out of the preliminary round.

Khem Birch scored 18 points, while Cory Joseph added 16 to lead the 23rd-ranked Canadians, who came back from a 17-point deficit only to fall apart in the fourth quarter.

Kevin Pangos chipped in with 14 points and eight assists for the overmatched Canadians.

Matthew Dellavedova led No. 11 Australia with 24 points, while Chris Goulding added 16.

Canada was playing its first World Cup game since the 2010 tournament in Turkey, where Canada went 0-5 and finished 22nd out of 24 teams.

Canada takes on No. 6 Lithuania in a virtual must-win game on Tuesday, as only the top two teams in each group advance. The bottom two teams are relegated to the classification side of the draw.

The Canadians clutched a one-point lead to start the fourth, but then went ice cold, and when Andrew Bogut hit a floating jumper with 6:24 to play, it capped a 16-2 Boomers run and put the green and gold up by 13 points. An Ingles three-pointer with 2:56 to play made it a 16-point Aussie lead. Australia kept its foot on Canada’s proverbial throat through the final few minutes of a disappointing loss.

Canada was expected to have a team stocked with NBA talent in China, in a summer that promised to usher in the country’s golden age in the sport. Canada Basketball listed 17 NBA players on its camp invitation list, but far fewer showed up as one by one the country’s biggest stars opted out of national team duty.

Canadian basketball was still basking in the glow of the Toronto Raptors’ historic NBA championship run when Raptors’ coach Nick Nurse was named Canada’s national coach. He was tasked with piecing together a team comprised of almost all European-based players, and just two NBAers in Joseph (Sacramento) and Birch (Utah).

Had Kelly Olynyk not injured a knee in the team’s exhibition opener versus Nigeria, Canada would have had three NBA players in China.

The Aussies, meanwhile, boasted five NBA players — Patty Mills, Andrew Bogut, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova, and Aron Baynes — and were just a week removed from shocking the Americans in a four-point exhibition victory, the first loss by the Americans since 2006.

Australia took an early lead, and Goulding’s three-pointer at the buzzer sent the Aussies into the second quarter with a 29-20 advantage.

Australia would stretch their lead to 17 points late in the third, but a pair of quick buckets by Canada sliced the deficit to 12 points, and Canada went into the halftime break trailing 52-40.

The Canadians roared out of the break with an 11-0 run that sliced the Aussies’ advantage to just a point, and when Pangos hit a three-pointer with 6:51 left in the third quarter, the shot from deep gave Canada its first lead of the game since its opening basket.

Birch threw down an emphatic dunk as part of Canada’s third-quarter burst, racing back down the court with his arms outstretched like an airplane.

The Aussies briefly reclaimed the lead but Thomas Scrubb’s three with 11 seconds left in the quarter sent Canada into the fourth with a 77-76 advantage.

Foul trouble plagued the Canadians from the opening tip — many of them drawn by Utah veteran Ingles. The Canadians were whistled for 12 fouls in the first half compared to four for Australia, and a fed-up Nurse picked up a technical foul early in the second quarter. Joseph had to take a seat with his third foul — a head-scratcher — soon after, when he tripped over Mitch Creek’s outstretched leg.

Sunday’s crowd at a packed Dongguan Basketball Centre was pro-Australia, but the Raptors’ presence was definitely felt. The in-game host interviewed a fan in a No. 2 Kawhi Leonard Raptors jersey, signing off with “We the North!” Other fans were spotted in Kyle Lowry and Pascal Siakam jerseys.

Lithuania, led by former Raptors centre Jonas Valanciunas, played 33rd-seeded Senegal in the late game.