Now 0-2 at the world basketball championship after blowing a 17-point third-quarter lead and losing at the buzzer 70-68 to Lithuania on Sunday, Canada could have reasons to take drastic measures.
But the Canadians, playing their best basketball at the world level in more than a decade, remain positive. "There's nothing drastic," Canada coach Leo Rautins said. "If we had a lot of the same effort and focus [Saturday in a loss to Lebanon]as we had [Sunday] it could have been a different result. We're just trying to get better every time we step on the floor."
Canada is getting better, and nearly upset Lithuania, which finished fourth at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Rautins said point guard Jermaine (Rock) Anderson, recently troubled with injuries, played his best game, despite missing a tough three-point shot in traffic that could have won the game at the buzzer.
"I saw the clock. There was about two seconds when I looked up," said Anderson, who had 15 points and four steals. "Even if I drove it I would have taken a tough shot. I thought I would pull up where I hit a little bit of daylight, but the shot just didn't drop. We did everything that we could. We fought for 40 minutes, but unfortunately we fell short."
Rautins, opting not to call time-out, said he was convinced Anderson would make it. "The last three times at the buzzer he made that shot," the coach said. "He didn't have the Rock rhythm. It wasn't a normal Rock release."
Opening with a towering front-court of Joel Anthony, Levon Kendall and Aaron Doornekamp, Canada raced to a 20-7 lead early. Hot shooting by Anderson, Denham Brown, and Jermaine Bucknor put Canada ahead 43-33 at the half. "They prepared tactically very well and played very smart," Lithuanian coach Kestutis Kemzura said. "For us, it took time for us to figure out how to win this game."
The Canadians extended the lead to 56-39 midway in the third quarter, but then the game got away from them, again. Canada got cold, and Lithuania, led by new Toronto Raptors acquisition Linas Kleiza, who had 18 points, erupted on a 24-3 run.
"Our team unravels a bit," Rautins said. "By international standards, certainly, we're a young team. We learn every time we step on the floor. With our team every opportunity to play at this level hopefully makes up better."
After the 81-71 loss to Lebanon on Saturday, Canada seemed on the verge of a fourth-quarter collapse. But Canada stayed aggressive and kept the game close.
Fourth-quarter calls seemed to go against Canada: one against Doornekamp, who had won rebounding position, and another against Kendall, which nixed a chance to tie the score with a minute left. "There were some calls that I didn't understand at the end of the game, but that's the world we live in," Rautins said.
After Doornekamp airballed a chance to even the game off a kickout from Anthony with 25 seconds left, Canada had one last chance to tie or win. But Anderson's miss epitomized a tournament in which Canada, with perhaps better luck, could be 2-0, not 0-2.
"We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game, but we just couldn't get it done," Rautins said. "In our position now, every game matters."
Canada's ace shooting guard Andy Rautins, nagged all summer by a knee injury ahead of a rookie season with the New York Knicks, winced and limped throughout the hard-fought game, and won't likely be at 100 per cent for France on Tuesday, New Zealand on Wednesday, and defending world champion Spain on Thursday. "Andy started limping in the first half," his coach and father said. "I probably shouldn't have played him in the second half."
The problem is, his son is a warrior who doesn't want to leave the game. "We can't make excuses," said Andy Rautins, shrugging off his injury. "You have to play even when it hurts. I don't want to come off the floor."