New Zealand v Canada | Game 1 Preview

New Zealand v Canada | Game 1 Preview

New Zealand Tall Blacks v Canada Basketball

When: 7.30pm (AEST), Tuesday 20 August and Wednesday 21 August

Where: Quaycentre, Sydney

Broadcast: Live Streamed: SBS On Demand or FIBA YouTube Channel | Sky Sport 9 (NZ)


The road to the FIBA World Cup in China continues tonight as the Canadian National Team will test themselves against the other basketball powerhouse from this region.

The New Zealand Tall Blacks have been quietly going about their business, preparing under coach Paul Henare and as the second top qualifying nation from the Asia region, will be looking to go into Group F full of confidence next month.


Where They’ve Been

Canada is well advanced in their preparations and proved to the world on Friday night that they’ll be no easy-beats next month versus Australia. Canada embarrassed the Boomers, winning 90-70 in the first of two games at RAC Arena in Perth.

A balanced attack led by Kevin Pangos (18 points, six assists and four steals), Andrew Nembhard (12 points, ten rebounds and four assists), and Kaza Kejami-Keane (12 points) was able to score consistently, especially in the pick and roll, which the Australians struggled to defend. But it was the Canadian’s defence that was most impressive, restricting Australia to just 70 points and forcing them into tough shots all night; the Boomers making just 6/34 three pointers.

On Saturday night the Boomers bounced back, defeating Canada 81-73 but it was not easy. Canada led after the first quarter and at half time. They trailed by just one point at the final break before Australia built a double-digit lead in the fourth to close out the game.

Canada’s lone NBA player, Khem Birch, led the way with 18 points, while Oshae Brissett had 14 points. Pangos did not play in this one.

“I thought it was very positive for us, these two games,” Associate Head Coach Gordie Herbert said.

“I thought we played extremely well. We competed. We played as a team. [Friday] night, obviously we shot the ball better from three-point land, but overall I thought it was a very positive two days for us.”

The week prior, Canada faced Nigeria twice in Canada, again splitting the games and giving Nick Nurse a victory in his coaching debut with the national team. Unfortunately, it cost them Kelly Olynyk in the process. The Miami Heat power forward suffered a knee injury that will keep him out of the World Cup.

Meanwhile, the Tall Blacks also commenced their preparations travelling to Japan to take on a tough Japanese team in a two-game series.

Japan got the better of New Zealand 99-89 in the first game, as the Kiwis struggled from the perimeter. The Webster brothers leading the way (Tai 18 points, Corey 14 points) along with Isaac Fotu who had 16 points.

In the second game, the Tall Blacks were much more cohesive, with 22 assists on 39 made field goals. They grabbed 13 offensive boards and limited their turnovers to just ten. They ran out 104-87 winners behind Ethan Rusbatch’s 16 points, while Fotu had 15 points and Corey Webster again had 14 points.

“Much happier tonight,” said Henare post-game.

“Not so much the result, that is good, and we needed to leave with a win for the confidence and what that does for our group. But more so for the way we played and the way we imposed our style of game. There were some reactions from the Japanese team that were a good sign for us, the fact they were respecting the way we were playing with pace and trying to push the ball.”



Rusbatch has been one of the pleasant surprises for Henare so far, connecting on 5 of 9 three pointers and 10 of 16 overall on his way to a combined 28 points off the bench across the two games.

“On Ethan, I don’t know if NBL clubs are watching – and I work for one, so maybe it is the pot calling the kettle black a little, but I am not sure they really appreciate what he can do,” Henare said of Rusbatch.

“He is a legitimate threat from three, has a quick release, he is consistent and he has put the work in. I am just happy for him and the work he has put in over the past few years that he is able to perform consistently at a high level.”


The Matchups

Point Guard: Tai Webster led the Tall Blacks in assists in the two games versus Japan and his playmaking will continue to be needed against a very stingy Canadian defence, who are particularly adept in defending the pick and roll. They made it very difficult for Matthew Dellavedova to penetrate or score in Perth and Webster will need to be creative to keep this offence ticking over.

“I think we have a great new system in place, something we have never seen from the Tall Blacks before, the pace we are playing at,” said Webster last week after defeating Japan.

“My eyes kind of light up when we talk about the style we want to play, it kind of plays to my strengths, bringing some pace to the game, it opens up the court and I can make plays for myself but most importantly, for others.”

Webster will face Kevin Pangos, who gave the Boomers fits on Friday night. The FC Barcelona star is going to be key to this team until Cory Joseph (Sacramento Kings) joins the team. Joseph is not expected to play against New Zealand, but should be available when Canada faces Team USA next week. Pangos, meanwhile has proved to be someone coach Nick Nurse can rely on to score and create for his teammates.

Shooting Guard: The older Webster, Corey – a veteran of international basketball – has been starting alongside his brother. As has been his role for years, Corey is needed to spread the floor and get buckets, but will be looking to shoot better than he did in Japan, where he connected on just 3/13 threes.

Phil Scrubb, also part of a brother combo on his national team, is a strong two-guard who likes to get to the basket. He struggled from deep against the Boomers, going 0 for 5 across the two games, but made his impact defensively and with ball movement, as he had 8 assists in total.

Small Forward: When you look up the Tall Blacks history over the past decade, it’s more than likely you’ll find a picture of Thomas Abercrombie. Such a staple of New Zealand basketball, he is still getting it done at 32 years of age and his leadership will be as important as his scoring ability in this Tall Blacks campaign. Abercrombie had 22 efficient points and 9 rebounds in Japan.

Melvin Ejim presents a great matchup for Abercrombie. At 6’7 and with the ability to score in a variety of ways, the Canadian veteran is also in many ways the stable hand they will need as this team finds its identity under Nurse.

Power Forward: Probably New Zealand basketball’s most successful export not named Steven Adams, Isaac Fotu’s game has evolved immensely in his five years as a pro in Europe. Fotu is a modern-day four man, with the ability to play inside and out. He led the Tall Blacks on the boards with 15 rebounds against Japan and will need to be aggressive against Canada’s tough interior defence.

Kyle Wiltjer is a knockdown shooter. The man who spent a season with the Houston Rockets in 2016-17, has been playing in Europe the past two seasons. He gave the Boomers a lot of trouble in the first game in Perth with his quick release, hitting three triples on his way to 11 points and 6 rebounds. He will keep the Tall Blacks’ defence honest.

Centre: With Steven Adams unavailable, the Tall Blacks have been starting Rob Loe at the five spot and he has done a nice job. Loe’s value is in stretching the floor, protecting the rim and setting good screens for his teammates; all things that will be needed against this Canadian team.

Khem Birch, Canada’s lone NBA player right now, showed his talent against the Boomers in Perth as he ran the floor, played solid help defence and played his role. The Orlando Magic big man will prove a tough matchup for New Zealand and may give Canada an advantage there.



The Bench Mobs: For the Tall Blacks, their depth and cohesion will be key in these games as they look to use that familiarity to their advantage. Rusbatch, Finn Delany and Shea Ili will be needed to provide a spark off the bench, but also maintain a defensive intensity for Henare’s men to get the upper hand. Alex Pledger, Jarrod Kenny and Tohi Smith-Milner round out the second unit rotation.

The Canadian bench are also an exciting bunch. The talk of the first game versus Australia was Andrew Nembhard who had a double-double off the bench in a very aggressive outing. It earned the 19-year old Florida Gator the start in the second game, and while he struggled to replicate his success from a night earlier, he definitely gave Nick Nurse something to ponder as he figures out his rotations moving forward.

“He gets places easy and I’m not quite sure how he does it,” Nurse said of Nembhard.

“I’m trying to figure it out. He’s got this head fake, he’s in, he’s out, he’s over, he’s around, and all of a sudden he’s into some clear space. He’s got a funky game a little bit, for a 19-year-old kid, a pretty good game.”

Kaza Kejami-Keane, Oshae Brissett, Thomas Scrubb and Owen Klassen all had their moments against the Boomers and play an attacking style that will prove difficult to contain.


The Prediction

The result of these games matters far less than the learnings from them.

For the Tall Blacks, these will be invaluable in working on their offensive cohesion against a tough defensive unit, while ensuring their own defence can contain a team that likes to push at every opportunity.

The Canadians are still finding their style under Nurse, but showed last Friday that they are not to be underestimated, no matter who is missing from their squad. Their players are all trying to prove they are worthy of getting minutes in China and will continue to play aggressively at both ends.

Canada should be slightly favoured after what they did against the Boomers.

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