HAMILTON — Shai Gilgeous-Alexander drilled a silky smooth three-pointer late in the third quarter Friday, and then flashed three fingers to the delighted crowd.
In his first national team appearance in six years, and first game in his hometown since high school, the Oklahoma City Thunder guard scored 15 of his 32 points in a dominant third quarter, leading Canada to a 95-75 victory over the Dominican Republic in World Cup qualifying.
"We won. That's most important. But it was a fun night, a fun night for sure," said the 23-year-old, who arrived at the arena in a Hockey Canada jersey.
Canada improved to 5-0. The Dominican Republic dropped to 3-2 with both losses to Canada.
Kelly Olynyk scored 17 points and hauled in 11 rebounds for Canada. Nickeil Alexander-Walker, who is Gilgeous-Alexander's cousin, also had 17 points in front of about 6,000 fans at FirstOntario Centre.
"It’s fun to get back out here, especially in front of fans on home soil. You don’t get that opportunity every day," said 31-year-old Olynyk.
"This group of guys, young guys especially, I feel like I’m the oldest guy out here now. They’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of skill, and it’s fun to be out there."
Gilgeous-Alexander, who hadn't played since mid-March due to a lingering ankle injury, scored the first points of the night on a left-handed dunk.
"I surprised myself a little bit. I never had a left-hand dunk in my career," he said, grinning. "That was a good way to start, good way to start for sure. . . but probably won't happen again."
His contributions, which also included five rebounds, five assists, three steals and a pair of blocks, earned high praise from his teammates.
"He's up there with the best of them for sure," said Olynyk, who made his national team debut in 2010.
"It's a privilege to play with a guy like that. We’ve had a lot of them coming through this program now. He’s not alone. It’s fun to play with him, fun to watch, fun to witness."
Victor Liz scored 12 points for the Dominican Republic.
Canada is on the road Monday to play the winless U.S. Virgin Islands to conclude the third qualifying window.
The third of six windows marks coach Nick Nurse's first gathering of his summer "core" of players, including four NBA players who started Friday.
Canada has been plagued by NBA no-shows for major tournaments. After failing to qualify for last summer's Tokyo Olympics, Nurse asked the program's best players to sign a three-year commitment to play with Canada through the 2024 Paris Olympics.
The result was arguably the most talented gathering of Canadian players at camp this past week in Toronto. Several, such as Jamal Murray recovering from injury, didn't play, but Nurse said the week was a success.
"It felt like we'd taken another step forward in building. We had a lot of people in the gym," he said.
Nurse started his four NBA players Friday: Gilgeous-Alexander, who received loud applause from his hometown crowd at what was formerly Copps Coliseum, Alexander-Walker (Utah Jazz), Dwight Powell (Dallas Mavericks), and Olynyk (Detroit Pistons), plus national team mainstay Melvin Ejim.
In their first game in Ontario since 2018, the Canadians led throughout the opening quarter. A three-pointer by Alexander-Walker at the buzzer gave Canada a 21-16 lead to start the second.
The Dominican Republic led briefly in the second quarter. A 16-5 run capped Kyle Alexander's layup at the buzzer, however, gave Canada a 46-36 lead at halftime.
"Got to feel each other as the game went, built some chemistry as the game went, and I was pretty happy with our defensive effort in general," Nurse said.
The Canadians pulled away in the third to lead 76-48 heading into the final frame.
World Cup qualifying features 80 countries split into four regions. Eight teams from the Americas qualify for the 2023 World Cup in Indonesia, Japan and the Philippines.
The World Cup is the main qualifier for the 2024 Paris Olympics. The three remaining qualifying windows are in late August and November of this year, and February 2023.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 1, 2022.
Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press