Group L in Jakarta is shaping up to be the most exciting one in this FIBA World Cup.
Spain, the winners of the last World Cup back in 2019, and NBA-heavy Canada were largely expected to emerge from this group and easily advance to the quarterfinals.
However, both teams unexpectedly succumbed to Latvia and Brazil, respectively, to set up a pair of do-or-die contests this September 3.
Just five days after upsetting reigning Olympic silver medalist France in Group H play, Latvia pulled off a thrilling comeback against the number one ranked Spain to take a 74-69 win. They trailed by 11 points, 58-47, heading into the fourth quarter and banked on the efforts of Davis Bertans and Rodions Kurucs to turn the tide in their favor.
Bertans, who was just traded from the Dallas Mavericks to the Oklahoma City Thunder last June, finished with a team-high 16 points and three three-pointers. The former Brooklyn Net Kurucs added 13 points, eight rebounds, and three steals.
Aside from these two NBA veterans, three other Latvians scored in double figures as Rolands Smits, Kristers Zoriks, and Andrejs Grazulis all had 11 points apiece. These kinds of balanced performances have become a staple for this underdog Latvia team that is succeeding despite missing its best player, NBA All-Star forward Kristaps Porzingis.
Meanwhile, Brazil pulled off an equally shocking 69-65 victory against a much deeper Canada team. Brazil banked on their physicality throughout the night and allowed Canada to score only 65 points. This was less than two thirds of Canada’s typical output in this World Cup as they came into the match with averages of 108 points per game and a 37-point winning margin.
Seven-year NBA veteran Bruno Caboclo set the tone for the Brazilians and tallied an impressive 19 points, 13 rebounds, two steals, and three blocks. Like Latvia, Brazil had to come back from a double digit deficit in the second half as they trailed by as much as 12 points late in the third quarter.
Caboclo played a critical part in their rally before Yago Santos broke a 60-all tie with back-to-back lay-ups in the last two minutes of the match. The 5’10 guard wound up with eight points and 10 assists in a team-high 30 minutes in the win.
With these results, all four teams in Group L are now tied in the standings with a 3-1 record. The top two teams will advance from Jakarta to Manila for the quarterfinals, meaning that the final pair of games are now must-win affairs for all parties involved.
Latvia and Brazil will kick things off in the matinee game where neither team is particularly favored. One crucial storyline here is whether Brazil’s physicality can bother a tough Latvia team that is laden with longtime Euroleague players. Caboclo should continue to have his way inside the paint for Brazil, though they also must ensure that they can limit Bertans whose three-point shooting ability is more than enough to single-handedly win Latvia the game.
Later in the evening, the battle between Spain and Canada is set to be a thriller as these two are top quality sides that are more than capable of winning the gold medal in this tourney.
They were favored to top this group and easily qualify for the playoff round, but only one of these two can remain given their surprise losses. This will be a classic stylistic showdown between Spain’s reliable system and a highly talented Canada team that is bannered by a top-two talent in this World Cup in Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
This World Cup continues to shape up into one of the most competitive in recent history and these teams based in Jakarta have all brought their A-game to this quadrennial event. All of them have what it takes to wind up on the podium come the end of this tournament, yet only two of them will be making the flight to Manila for the upcoming quarterfinals.