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2023 FIBA World Cup Canada vs Latvia review: Mission accomplished after cold start

Canada came into the 2023 FIBA World Cup feeling optimistic and the group stage could not have gone any better.

Comprehensive wins over France and Lebanon – two nations the Canadians had never before beaten at a World Cup – secured qualification through to the next group stage.

And then came a tough test against battle-hardened Latvia to figure out top spot in Group H and it was Canada, led once again by Shai Gilgeous-Alexander storming away from a sluggish start to win 101-75.

Latvian test gets right answers from Canada

Canada's head coach Jordi Fernandez said Latvia would be the best prepared opponent in the group and they certainly weren't a pushover.

Fresh from one of their greatest ever successes over France, Latvia were hot from the opening tip, leading 23-13 at the end of the first quarter and trailing by just one at half time.

But the Shai show was just kicking into gear. Canada found another level, Latvia got into foul trouble and the second half was a very different contest.

Latvia head coach Luca Banchi earned himself a technical in the second quarter, and after the game he complained about a bunch of calls which he felt went Canada's way.

"Don't look at the names they have on their shirts," said the Italian coach, who was backed up in his anger by Oklahoma City forward Davis Bertans. 

Sluggish starts need to be a thing of the past 

That's two slow starts in three games for Canada, who also trailed France in their opener before asserting their authority later in the game.

Latvia punished that sluggish start by leading for 19 minutes but once the Canadians found a rhythm and Gilgeous-Alexander got to grips with his role, there was only ever going to be one outcome.

Gilgeous-Alexander went to the Far East as the team leader, especially with Jamal Murray missing the tournament to recover from his run to win the NBA Finals.

The OKC superstar is playing confidently and he followed up his match-winning exploits against France with another commanding performance.

With a game-high 27 points – 16 of those in the third quarter – six rebounds, six assists and two steals, SGA took home the man of the match award.

SGA can rely on teammates in crunch time 

Canada needs support for Gilgeous-Alexander if they want to win the tournament, and Fernandez has to be delighted with so many of the elements of the win against Latvia.

Bertans was unquestionably Latvia's go-to star but the Latvian Laser went just two-for-nine from the field as Canada defended him effectively.

RJ Barrett contributed 22 points and five rebounds, while Kelly Olynyk added 15 points.

Latvia had the size advantage but Canada won the rebound battle 44-31 while keeping turnovers to single figures.

The big negative was an ice-cold shooting performance in the first quarter – four of 18 from the field - but the team recovered nicely.

Belief boosted before Brazil battle

Surely the best takeaway from the win over a strong, talented Latvia team is the sense of self-belief that goes with it.

Canada have now topped a group at the World Cup for the first time.

They outscored the opposition by an average of 37 points a game in the first round and will bring an unbeaten record and plus-111 point differential into the next round.

They are riding momentum going into games against Brazil on Friday and Spain on Sunday.

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