Murray explodes to lead Canada to Pan Am final
TORONTO – We’ll remember this one as The Jamal Murray Game.
Canada topped USA 111-108 in overtime thanks to the late-game heroics of Murray who scored all 22 of his points in the fourth quarter and OT.
With the win Canada will play Brazil for the Pan Am gold medal Saturday at 4:30pm ET with their young guard Jamal Murray firmly in the spotlight.
“What can you say, you’re just speechless out there watching him,” said Steve Nash. “He’s just such a fast learner and has such balls and he’s not afraid of the moment, he embraces it and that’s why he’s very very special.”
Of learning on the job it was evident during the game that Murray was thinking about how to be better every possession.
In the first half he had a shot rejected by the long arm of American forward Anthony Randolph. In the fourth quarter he gave Randolph a stutter and quick change of speed and left him behind with a clear path to the basket.
That’s how fast Murray is improving in his first turn with Canada’s senior team.
“He’s shown that he belongs at this level,” said coach Jay Triano. “He’s been part of our junior program in the past and we held him off the U19s so he could play here in the Pan Ams for his first time with the senior national team and it’s obviously paid off.”
Triano also joked that he’d have to deal with Coach Cal of Kentucky as soon as tomorrow to ensure Murray would be available for the FIBA Americas tournament coming up where Canada will attempt to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
And how could they not after that performance?
His hot streak often spanned consecutive posessions, and when the defence keyed to him he was able to throw a dazzling over-the-shoulder pass to Andrew Nicholson or shovel the ball to Anthony Bennett for a driving dunk.
Triano was so comfortable in Murray he drew the play up for him and he tied it at 97 with a step-back. Then he blocked a jump shot on the other end.
In OT, down two Murray nailed consecutive threes to seal the deal and put Canada up 110-106.
“I had confidence in my shot,” Murray said after the game with a grin. “I knew I could hit that shot. I was stuck for a second but after I realized how much time and space he was giving me it was kind of disrespectful so I just tried to put it away.”
“He’s got cojones,” said veteran wing Carl English. “Unbelievable. He’s playing great and it’s just getting better every day.”
Lost in the Murray buzz was another gem of a game from Andrew Nicholson who tallied 31 points on 60% shooting, and grabbed 10 rebounds. He’s been silent and so steady throughout the tournament.
Anthony Bennett notched a very solid 18 points and 14 rebounds, while Bobby Brown led the American side with 25. FULL STATS HERE
The rebounding edge was decisive in Canada’s favour with the Canadians dominating 50-29 on the glass.
With this hard-earned win Canada is one step closer to double-gold in basketball at the Pan Am Games after Kia Nurse led the Women’s team to the top of the podium just days ago.
To get there they have to face an undefeated Brazilian squad that beat USA 93-83 in the last prelim game led by Vitor Benite’s 34 points including eight 3-pointers. Canada would be well-serviced to put Aaron Dornekamp on him after he shut down Denzel Valentine when it seemed like his shooting could blow the game open.
It could be their toughest challenge yet and a few Canadian players said Brazil has been the tournament favourite from the start.
“So many times as a player as well as watching our teams play we’ve been at this moment,” said executive vice president and assistant general manager Rowan Barrett. “We’ve been at the precipice where you just need to get over this last hurdle to get into a gold medal game and we’ve fallen short and here we are.”
Join NPH and @devingray33 in watching the Gold Medal Match at 4:30pm ET on Saturday, July 25th.
Canada has already clinched a medal, which will be their best performance in an international tournament in the past five years, and the only Pan Am medal in program history, but gold would be so sweet on home soil and the perfect way to cap these Games.