This morning’s 87-66 demolition of France has given the Boomers a massive opportunity to create history in Rio.
The win brings about the genuine possibility of a second place finish for Australia in Group A. That would result in a favourable quarter final matchup and a legitimate shot at Australia’s first ever men’s major championship medal.
The Boomers have been talking the talk since qualifying for Rio last year and now they’re walking that walk.
“We established our goal very early on and we’re serious with it,” spiritual leader Patty Mills told Channel 7 postgame.
“We’re not here to muck around, we mean business. So it was definitely good to get one against France.”
Mills scored a game high 21 points on 7-of-15 shooting against France, including 4-of-9 from downtown. His two first quarter triples helped spark Australia to an early 16-7 lead.
That lead was cut to just 3 by half time – thanks to some vintage play from veteran French point guard Tony Parker – but a strong response from the Boomers after the break helped set up the win.
Truth is, everything about the Boomers’ opening performance was impressive.
The focus. The D. The chemistry.
The Bogey Man!
Andrew Bogut’s return to the Olympic stage – long awaited by Aussie basketball fans – was a glorious one. The big fella scored 18 points on 9-of-10 shooting, grabbed 4 boards, dropped 5 dimes and blocked one shot in 22 sparkling minutes on the floor.
“We played really well tonight,” Bogut told Channel 7 postgame.
“We came in focused and we didn’t really have any lulls, those two or three minute stretches that we had in the practice games.”
Bogut’s defensive presence emboldened his teammates while his intelligent screening and pinch-post passing was influential at the offensive end.
“Bogues makes a massive difference in the key for us defensively and his passing game is awesome too,” Mills said.
As for his aerial combination with Matthew Dellavedova? Well, that’s something else all-together.
“I’m just doing a lot of different things out there trying to help the team win,” Bogut said.
The Boomers’ ball and player movement on Day 1 was absolutely exquisite. Sharp back-cuts and pin-point passing served to carve up what was a sloppy French resistance.
“The offense that Andrej (Lemanis) has put in is sensational, there are a lot of different options,” Bogut added.
“I tell my guards ‘back-cut, move, I’ll find you’ and they’re starting to listen to me and get some easy lay-ups.”
Bogut wasn’t the only one dropping dimes. Dellavedova, outstanding throughout, finished with a game-high 10 assists while registering only one turnover. Only Shane Heal has dropped more dimes in the green and gold in a single game at the Olympics (11 vs Korea in 1996), per @nblfacts.
Joe Ingles, limited by foul trouble in the second half, also had 6 assists while Mills had 5.
It was a remarkable level of cohesiveness considering the numerous disruptions the Boomers had to deal with throughout their preparation.
“We understand our strengths and weaknesses,” Mills said, when asked about Australia’s Spurs-like ball-movement.
“Although guys have been in and out (during the preparation), we know each other really well, both on and off the court.
“It’s a big stage, so to be able to come out and play with your heart and leave everything on the line for Australia, this is what it’s all about.”
Aron Baynes (11 points, 8 rebounds) was outstanding early, setting the tone on the interior for the Boomers.
Truth is, as impressive as they looked offensively, it was Australia’s work at the defensive end that was the key to their success. Their energy, intensity and focus was on point right from the opening tip.
“That’s something we’re going to have to hang our hat on; playing solid, physical defense,” Mills said.
“Being smart about it, not fouling. Wearing teams down. That’s what we did today. We were able to wear France down and by the time the fourth quarter hit we were right to go.”
All of that started with communication – something coaches always preach, young players undervalue and only really good teams carry out at a high level.
You could hear it from the Boomers bench all game long, everybody barking instructions, helping call screens and motivating their teammates. You could hear it on court too, with veterans Ingles and Bogut leading the way.
“The defense was phenomenal,” Bogut said.
“I’m the guy on the backline talking and getting guys into it defensively. If we guard like that all tournament we’ll give ourselves a bunch of chances.”
The win marks the first time the Boomers have claimed victory to open an Olympic campaign since beating Korea in 1996 (thanks to Hammer’s double-digit dimes!).
It’s a fabulous start, but nobody understands the unpredictability of tournament play better than the Boomers. Best to take it one game at a time, starting with Tuesday morning’s showdown with Serbia.
“They’re one of the best teams in Europe, year in and year out,” Bogut said about Serbia.
“They play a different style (to the French), probably not as many talented individuals but a much better team as far as cohesiveness.”
The message from Bogey: keep a lid on it.
“We need to have the right mindset. We’ve not done anything yet. We’ve won one game, that doesn’t mean anything,” he said.
“We need to back this up against Serbia and then continue on from there.”