When Andrew Nicholson has the ball in his hands, good things will typically happen. Not only will good things typically happen, Nicholson knows how to put the ball in the basket. He does it with so much ease, that it only seemed natural that his offensive game would expand.
Nicholson showed all of that in scoring 21 points for Canada in the second game of the FIBA Americas Championship.
Yet, it was one of his big mistakes that likely would seal Canada's fate and rob his team of its leading scorer. Nicholson fouled out of a close game (shortly after coach Jay Triano picked up a technical foul from the bench) and saw Puerto Rico run away and take charge. Without Nicholson, Puerto Rico's guard-based attack and Renaldo Balkman took complete control of the game and ballooning their lead to the final 83-67 margin.
Puerto Rico, having defeated Brazil in the first game and Canada in the second game, has all but assured itself a trip to the quarterfinals of the FIBA Americas Championship. Canada still has some work to do if it wants to get into the top two in the group and make the road to qualification easier. A win tomorrow seems almost imperative.
Canada stuck to its gameplan and did everything it had to do to win this game.
It had to dominate the inside and limit Renaldo Balkman, forcing Puerto Rico's guards to win the game. For most of the game, Balkman was in foul trouble and the inside was open for Nicholson, Andy Rautins and Canada.
Nicholson scored 21 points and grabbed seven rebounds in the game. And he did just about every way you could imagine. He had his low post game working, scooping up and under Ricardo Sanchez on numerous occassions, drawing fouls too. He confidently hoisted from long range and continued to show confidence and comfort taking bigger players off the dribble after a pump fake.
Opponents certainly are wary of his shooting ability now. He consistently gave defenders (typically Puerto Rico's center, mind you) a pump fake and dribbled toward the hoop for a quality shot attempt.
Nicholson was not creating much of his own opportunities, but he cashed in when others created for him or fed him the ball. That is what you expect from Nicholson.
Defensively, yes, Nicholson still is a bit slow on weakside rotations (although he was often defending Balkman and it may have been strategy for him to stick to the Puerto Rico forward). At least this game he rebounded well.
Still, the fact Nicholson was not on the court when his team needed an offensive boost really hurt his team.
Puerto Rico still got 26 points and 11 rebounds from Renaldo Balkman despite first half foul trouble. Puerto Rico hit 10 of 26 3-pointers. This proved too much for Canada to overcome in the end. Puerto Rico's guards had a distinct advantage over Canada, particularly from the perimeter. Canada was hoping its post play and some timely shooting would overcome.
Puerto Rico just started draining shots down the stretch and got out on the break much more than it had the rest of the game.
Canada's back is not against the wall. But the Canucks have a big game tomorrow afternoon.