In the bronze-medal game between Canada and the USA which featured 19 NBA players including Anthony Edwards, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and Lakers legend Austin Reaves, one player received "MVP" chants from the Filipino crowd — the same one who was booed by that same crowd earlier in the tournament: Dillon Brooks.
Brooks led Canada to a monumental overtime win over the United States on Sunday, 127-118, with another legendary performance in the red and white, leading all scorers with 39 points on 12-of-18 shooting, 7-of-8 from three along with four rebounds and five assists and just one turnover.
It was the most points he has scored in a game since entering the NBA in 2017 and the most a Canadian has ever scored at a World Cup.
TCL Player of the Game Dillon Brooks set a new points record in a medal game to tow third-place Canada to their first-ever medal 👏
📊 39 PTS | 5 AST | 4 REB | 7 3PM | 42 EFF#FIBAWC x #WinForCanada 🇨🇦 | #InspireGreatness pic.twitter.com/Og5wWPyHEG
— FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 🏆 (@FIBAWC) September 10, 2023
The win marks a changing of the guard for the Canadian men’s basketball team. After already qualifying for its first Olympics in 24 years after beating Spain in the final game of the group stage, Canada picked up its first ever medal in a World Cup and just its second ever medal in an international competition, with its last one coming 87 years ago in the 1936 Olympics.
"The medal means a lot to the guys, the program, the board, the country, everybody, the coaches. I think that an accomplishment like this, you don't know what it is until you do it," Canada’s head coach Jordi Fernandez said after the win. "My love goes back to all these guys. Like I said, I’ll take these guys on my team every day of the week from now until the end of my career."
The fact the win came against Team USA is icing on the cake. Despite coming into the game with a 1-21 record versus USA at the senior level, Canada overcame the most talented team in the tournament — one with 12 NBA players — with a dominant showing in which Canada led for 35:01 of the 45 minutes. After coming in seventh at the 2019 tournament, Team USA has now failed to medal in consecutive World Cups for the first time since 1963 and 1967.
Beat defending champ and No. 1 Spain
Beat No. 2 USA
Beat No. 5 France
Beat No. 7 Slovenia
Canada earned its first ever FIBA World Cup medal the hard way.
So proud of this team 🥲
— Vivek Jacob (@vivekmjacob) September 10, 2023
But with all due respect to a United States team that battled until the bitter end, this moment belongs to Canada. And specifically, it belongs to Brooks.
Brooks, who was pushed out from the team that drafted him after spending the first six years of his career in Memphis and giving everything he had to the team as he put his body on the line as a physical defender every game.
Brooks, who called LeBron James "old" and was blamed for the Grizzlies' playoff failure as the team lost in the first round to the Los Angeles Lakers before the front office leaked through the media that they would not be bringing back an expiring Brooks "under any circumstances."
Brooks, who was the brunt of jokes on social media as fans and analysts speculated about whether or not he would even return to the NBA or have to go to a league in China as he waited out free agency before receiving a four-year, $86-million contract from the rebuilding Houston Rockets.
And yes, Brooks who was booed incessantly by the basketball-crazed fans in Indonesia and the Philippines before they all did a complete 180 by the end of the tournament, cheering him on as he scored bucket after bucket down the stretch to finish with 39 points and walk away with the game MVP and a bronze medal hanging over his neck.
"They did the same thing in Jakarta — It's just an amazing feeling to be recognized during the game," Brooks said of the "MVP" chants. "But I just never took it for granted."
Team Canada knew that Shai Gilgeous-Alexander would be its best player coming into the tournament. And Gilgeous-Alexander was everything they could have hoped for and more, averaging 24.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, 6.4 assists and just 1.4 turnovers as he led Canada in every major statistical category and was the best player in the entire tournament and the likely MVP.
It was Gilgeous-Alexander who got Canada off to a great start against Team USA with his unselfish play, finding Brooks and Lu Dort — who started in place of Kelly Olynyk — for back-to-back threes to get Canada off to a quick 8-0 lead. He had four assists in the opening six minutes before taking a brief seat on the bench, up 23-13.
But Team USA would not go away quietly. Despite having Jaren Jackson Jr, Paolo Banchero and Brandon Ingram all out due to sickness, their depth of NBA talent was evident as Jalen Brunson and Anthony Edwards came out of the gate firing to combine for 18 first half points. Meanwhile, USA's bench gave them a huge boost at the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, when it went on a quick 19-2 run behind a combined 20 half points from Austin Reaves and Bobby Portis, outscoring the Canadian bench 23-8 in the first half.
The Americans got their first lead of the game at the 7:47 mark of the second quarter, when a Cameron Johnson three-pointer put them up 38-36. But it wouldn’t last long. After a Canada timeout, Brooks and Gilgeous-Alexander combined to score 22 straight points for Canada as the only two Canadian scorers from that point until the end of the half, when Canada led 58-56.
"We couldn't get stops. A team scores 127 points, shoots 51 percent and makes 17 threes, you're probably not going to win," Team USA head coach Steve Kerr said after the game.
"We tried everything [on Gilgeous-Alexander]. When we doubled him, Brooks was making threes. When we didn't, he was making his pull-ups. So, give those guys credit. They both play great."
Like they have all tournament, Canada dominated the third quarter behind 11 points from Gilgeous-Alexander as the starters continued to move the ball extremely well and get good looks from beyond the arc. After slimming down their rotation from ten players in the first half to just eight in the second, they got a spark from Olynyk, Nickeil Alexander-Walker and Melvin Ejim, who all had great moments off the bench. Canada won the quarter 33-26 to go up 91-82 at the end of three.
However, Team USA went on yet another quick run to erase a double-digit deficit for the second time in the game in the fourth quarter. Tyrese Haliburton found his shot after going scoreless in the first half, hitting two big threes in the fourth. While Edwards and Reaves hit a plethora of tough shots over Brooks and Dort defending them, combining to score 22 points in the fourth.
Mikal Bridges played outstanding defense on Gilgeous-Alexander as the Americans started double-teaming him and trapping him on ball-screens, forcing other Canadians to step up. And it was Brooks and RJ Barrett who did. After Canada was down 102-100 with just over two minutes left to play, Brooks and Barrett scored seven straight points before Gilgeous-Alexander hit a pull-up two to give Canada a healthy 111-107 lead with just 20 seconds to play. Brooks, who was doing a bit of everything on defense, then blocked a Reaves floater, but Barrett fell asleep on the play and fouled Bridges after allowing an offensive rebound.
It was then that Bridges did the impossible, erasing a four-point deficit after making the first free throw, intentionally missing the second, getting his own rebound and hitting a miraculous three.
— FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023 🏆 (@FIBAWC) September 10, 2023
It looked like another disappointing collapse for Canada on the world’s biggest stage, but they were not done fighting yet, showing the resiliency this group has come to be defined by one more time.
Gilgeous-Alexander stormed out of the gate to score Canada’s first seven points of overtime, including a ridiculous step-back three-point jumper over two defenders, before Brooks hit a tough floater and Barrett took it home with a wide-open three-pointer off a selfless Gilgeous-Alexander pass.
SGA DROPS MIKAL BRIDGES.
— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) September 10, 2023
Gilgeous-Alexander finished with 31 points, six rebounds and 12 assists and just one turnover. Barrett had 23 points on 4-of-8 shooting from three. While Olynyk had 11 points in just 11 minutes.
"He's nice. He's just slithery, knows how to get out, get away from you," Bridges said about Gilgeous-Alexander. "He's First-Team [All-NBA] I think for a reason. So, it's just tough. I mean, he's an unbelievable player."
But as has been the case in all of their most important games, it was Brooks who stepped up to help Gilgeous-Alexander when Canada needed it most. It was Brooks who played second-fiddle to SGA in a tournament where Canada needed someone to take the reigns, finishing the eight games with a true-shooting percentage of 76.1 while averaging 23 points, four rebounds, three assists and two STOCKS on 80 percent true shooting and 67 percent from three in their four elimination games versus No. 1-ranked Spain, No. 7 Slovenia, No. 6 Serbia, and No. 2 USA.
And it was Brooks who began the important process of rewriting his career narrative after what he called a "tough year with my old squad" in Memphis, saying "it was great having a refresh with Canadian blood. Guys who believe in me. Guys who trust in me."
"I'm just happy to be able to put this jersey on," Brooks said after the game. "I'm just happy to be here, with my teammates and put this jersey on and represent my country for all the Canadians out there."
Like most NBA players, Brooks sees the things that are said about him online and elsewhere. He thanked his haters after the game, saying "I just appreciate you. From the beginning, everybody that was throwing shots on Twitter and Instagram, watching me play — it just helps me get better and better each and every day. It motivates me."
In fact, some of that hate might even be a good thing, playing into Brooks dialing-in on his shot selection. Brooks said that a focus for him in the tournament was being "patient" and not trying to force or hunt shots, which had been a criticism of him in the NBA, especially in last year’s playoffs when he shot just 31.2-percent from the field. He said he was very focused on having good shot selection, and "I feel like I did a pretty good job this World Cup." To which Fernandez replied: "You did a great job."
Still, Brooks knows "the hate doesn't stop, it keeps going." He understands that in the world of professional basketball, "they love you when you're up, like right now. But when you have a bad game, they go right back to it." And he knows that to be successful, you can "never be satisfied. You always keep working." He plans on continuously improving, becoming more consistent and bringing those same habits that made him a clutch performer and a leader on Team Canada to a young Rockets team that will be looking to him as a role model.
But for now, Brooks can take a moment to reflect on what he has just done for Canada, a nation full of fans that will never again second-guess the merits of his competitive nature, or whether or not the good truly outweighs the bad. It turns out that if you let Brooks play his game, his way, you will always be rewarded in the end.
Team Canada found that out at the FIBA World Cup. And it's only a matter of time before the NBA learns that same lesson.