Beneath all the hoopla of NBA stars, catchy hashtags, selection controversies and sold out arenas, these past couple of weeks were essentially about one thing for our Aussie Boomers; Olympic qualification.
Job done. Boom! Time for some #froffieswiththefellas.
And yet, so much more has been accomplished here.
Progress. Buzz. Perception.
Basketball is once again growing around these parts and the 2015 Oceania campaign has been like a shot of HGH in the proverbial backside.
You see, it’s one thing having a bunch of stars doing us proud in the NBA, but it’s not until they do the same in the green and gold that it really makes a difference back home.
Look at Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill. It wasn’t their fabulous careers with Liverpool and Everton that vaulted the growth of soccer in Australia, it was the miracles they created with the Soccerroos. Big wins on home soil and flying the flag at major international tournaments. That’s what grows the game with kids and families.
Sure, it’s great that Patty Mills splashes threes for the Spurs, but when he does it for the Boomers at Rod Laver Arena, it means a whole lot more. Likewise, Matthew Dellavedova.
Now of course, one doesn’t come without the other – but you just can’t put a value on kids watching their national heroes representing them.
With that in mind, it’s time to tip your hat to Andrew Bogut.
Often maligned by Aussie fans for being unavailable for national team duty, the Bogeyman had his shining Boomers moment in yesterday’s 89-79 Game 2 victory.
Battling through a frustratingly sore lower back, Bogut was the key difference-maker, at both ends of the floor, yesterday.
Sure, Delly (14 points, 5 assists and 2 steals) and others played well – in fact it was an impressive all-around performance by the Boomers – but Bogut was the best of the bunch.
His numbers (10 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocks) were nice but it was his presence, and the fact that he was even on the floor at all, that made the biggest difference.
“I think it’s perhaps underestimated by the general public just what a significant effort that was from Andrew,” coach Andrej Lemanis said post-game.
Bogut suffered a lower back injury two weeks ago during one of the Boomers’ European warm-up games. His preparation for the New Zealand series was carefully managed from that point on and he re-injured it on Saturday night at Rod Laver Arena.
The internet was buzzing yesterday with speculation that the NBA Champ would not take floor in the decisive Game 2.
“He could have easily said it was just too sore, I’m not going to play. But it meant something to him to be part of the Boomers program,” Lemanis added.
“Now’s the time to let it be known publicly just what a significant effort that was from Andrew to overcome that pain. It speaks volumes to the bloke.”
Teammate Dellavedova told media that Bogut’s presence was a major motivating factor for the group.
“It definitely fired up the boys because he was putting his body on the line to play,” Delly said. “Especially early on, getting a few buckets and blocks.”
“Then to start the second half like he did, really gave us an emotional boost and it’s just great to be playing out there with him.”
As well as providing a welcome offensive punch inside (and some trademark cunning), Bogut was his usual intimidating self on defense.
He spent much of his time matched up on Mika Vukona; two savvy veterans battling on the inside. The Tall Black was asked post-game if it was a surprise to see Bogut take the floor, despite his obvious discomfort.
“A surprise? Really? I don’t think so,” Vukona responded. “Bogut’s a competitor. The fact that he’s even here straight after the [NBA] Finals, just shows the class of the guy.
“He bleeds the green and gold, so for us to think that he wasn’t going to play was never in the back of our head.”
The Boomers made a point of utilising their size advantage over the Kiwis in Game 2, much more so than in Game 1. It was a clear adaptation of the game plan, after New Zealand had successfully disrupted their free-flowing ball movement on Saturday night.
Lemanis promised some offensive adjustments and that’s what he delivered.
The Boomers altered their usual structure of reversing the ball through their bigs into back-cut / dribble hand-off action. Yesterday, they reversed it via high pick and pops and their back-cutters became small-to-big cross-screeners along the baseline.
It was effective and it resulted in numerous easy baskets near the rim and far better player and ball movement throughout the game.
“We settled down a little tonight and got the ball inside,” Bogut said post-game. “Whenever we needed a key bucket we would go inside-out and we’d get a score.”
Australia dominated the rebounding count, scored at 53% from the floor and got to the charity stripe for 24 attempts, connecting on 21 of them.
Tall Blacks coach Paul Henare discussed the Boomers’ adjustments post-game.
“What they call their ‘flow’ offense, their semi-transition offense, we did a good job of defending that in Melbourne and there were very few possessions of that tonight,” he said.
“They made a really good adjustment; they decided to throw the ball down low to their big bodies and our ‘giant’ 6’4” four and five men had to battle them.”
Lemanis even gave Henare a taste of his own medicine defensively, clearly instructing his players to switch and deny on the wings as was done to them in Game 1. Watch Delly and Goulding here:
It was a well-coached, well-executed dismantling of the dangerous Kiwis – one that qualifies Australia for the Olympics for the 12th straight time, something no other country has ever done before in Men’s basketball (per @NBLFacts).
Lemanis was obviously pleased to have qualified, but the significance of having our NBA stars on the floor was clearly on his mind post-game.
“It’s just so pleasing to have a group of guys that are so committed to wearing the green and gold singlet that they’re going to make sacrifices to play for their country. That puts us in a good position moving forward,” he said.
“It took our best effort from our best guys to get us across the line so it’s great that they’re all prepared to commit.”
The thousands of fans wearing Mills, Dellavedova and Bogut jerseys that filled Rod Laver Arena on Saturday night agree.
Onwards and upwards from here.
Thank you, again, to Paul Vido for his help cutting tape.