Boomers to Face Old Foe Lithuania in Quarter-Final

My head is still recovering from trying to figure out the Group B standings, but now that the dust has settled, the Boomers will take on Lithuania for a spot in the medal rounds.

The game will be played at midnight Thursday morning AEST.

The Boomers finished second in Group A, while also ranking second overall in total points scored, total points allowed, total assists, field goal percentage and efficiency.

It’s been a very steady and mostly consistent performance through the group phase for the Boomers, winning their four games by an average margin of 21.5 points and losing to the U.S. by 10.

Conversely, it’s been anything but for Lithuania, who finished third in Group B. After winning their first three games against Brazil, Nigeria and Argentina, all by less than 10 points, they proceeded to welcome Spain into the tournament, suffering a 109-59 drubbing which raised more than a few eyebrows.

In their final game, Lithuania couldn’t maintain a fast start, succumbing 89-81 to Croatia and handing over first place in the process.

Whether you like the matchup or not, to me it’s fitting that we need to go through the nation that has twice denied us our first Olympic medal (1996 and 2000) to get back to the medal rounds for the first time in 16 years.

Lithuania is in many ways the Boomers’ biggest nemesis. Aside from losing to them in Atlanta and Sydney for bronze, we’ve played them three other times in Olympic history and have only beaten them once.

The good news: that win came the last time we faced them, in Beijing in 2008. The Boomers won by 31 points and hit 16-of-25 from deep, including Andrew Bogut going 3-of-3 from distance, per @nblfacts. While Bogey may not let fly that often this time, it’s a good omen that we got that four-game losing streak out of the way before this meeting.

We also beat them 82-75 at the 2014 World Cup in Spain, however many conspiracy theorists believe Lithuania lost that game intentionally to have a more favourable bracket in the knockout phase. They went on to the bronze medal game, losing to France by 2 points.

Whatever you believe, it matters not.

2016 is a new era and this is a very different Boomers outfit to what we’ve seen in tournaments past.

We’re playing with a self-belief that I’ve not seen since 2000. All the pre-Olympics talk about competing for a gold medal has been backed up so far on the court. The chatter about the supposed “golden age of Australian basketball” is being validated by their play, which has been noticed by the rest of the world.

And everything the Boomers have done to this point has effectively been with this moment in mind. Being in a position to go into an elimination game not only as the higher seed, but with confidence that we can beat anyone in this tournament, is exactly where we want to be.

Of course the critics will say the fact we lost to them 81-68 in a warmup game late last month is not a good sign. Fair point, but we played that game without Andrew Bogut and it was also Joe Ingles’ first outing since the Pac-12 games in Melbourne.

The Boomers shot poorly in that game, going just 4-of-19 from downtown and 24-of-60 (40 percent) from the field, and struggled to really get going offensively. We only had 15 assists from those 24 field goals, clearly lacking ball movement and fluidity on offence.

By contrast, the Boomers have hit 51.6 percent of their field goals in Rio and 36.2 percent from three-point range, while also averaging 26 assists per game.

Bogut makes a huge difference in that respect. Not only does he pass the ball himself (averaging four assists per game, which ranks 13th in the group phase), he also draws attention on pick-and-rolls to open things up for teammates.

In addition to that, he helps immensely at the other end of the floor, where Lithuania hit 52 percent against us in that warmup game and 7-of-14 from deep. Through the five group matches, the Boomers held their opponents to just 40.2 percent from the field overall, and that is a collective effort from the entire team. However, as he did so well for the Warriors the past few years, Bogut sets the tone and anchors that defence for Australia.

Jonas Valanciunas, who was Lithuania’s only NBA player last season, had 19 points (7-of-13 field goals) and eight rebounds against Australia in the warmup game, going against Aron Baynes and David Andersen. But they’re not on the same level Bogut is defensively, and he’s a good chance to limit any impact that Valanciunas may have.

Baynes will line up at power forward in this one instead and he should be able to muscle his way to the basket against Domantas Sabonis, who will be a 20-year-old NBA rookie for the Thunder this coming season.

Despite our past struggles, Lithuania is a good matchup for the Boomers. Through the group stage, we rank higher than Lithuania in points, rebounds (offensive and defensive), assists, field goal percentage, three-point percentage, steals, turnovers and efficiency.

Lithuania tops us only in blocks and free throw percentage, while we’re tied in fouls.

There will be some great battles to watch at multiple positions, but as a group, the Boomers appear stronger and more cohesive.

Lithuania’s back court is led by point guard Mantas Kalnietis, who finished the group round second behind Matthew Dellavedova in assists and fifth in scoring, hitting a staggering 64.2 percent from the field, so he will need to be contained. Expect a combination of Delly, Kevin Lisch and Patty Mills to guard Kalnietis.

He’s more turnover-prone than Delly, as he coughed it up 14 times to Delly’s five through the first five games, so the ball pressure and pressing we’ve been deploying will be especially important in trying to get the ball out of Kalnietis’ hands.

Their wing attack is made up of Renaldas Seibutis, Jonas Maciulis and New York Knicks signee Mindaugas Kuzminskas. All of them can fill it up from deep, and Lithuania has connected on more triples than the Boomers this tournament, hitting 8.2 on 23.8 attempts per game. The way we rotate, switch on picks and close out will go a long way to deciding this game.

Up front, they are younger, less experienced and frankly less talented than Australia. Valanciunas, whose impact Bogut should be able to negate, has struggled in Rio, hitting just 14-of-36 field goals (38.9 percent) and averaging seven points, 6.8 rebounds and one block per game.

Aside from JV, they run Sabonis (6.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 40.6 percent from the field) and Paulius Jankunas, who is a 6-foot-9 power forward we’ll need to watch. Jankunas can score inside and out, and at 32 is their most experienced big man.

On the other side of the court, having been rested against Venezuela, expect Patty Mills to be bursting with energy and to cause issues for the Lithuanians. Seibutis cannot stay with Mills, so if they put Kalnietis on him, he’ll expend energy chasing Mills around screens, which should take away from his offensive effectiveness.

Mills has been exceptional all tournament and I don’t see a reason why that’ll change now, especially with fresh legs.

The Boomers may be without Cam Bairstow in this game however, after he dislocated his shoulder against Venezuela. He’s been more effective as the tournament has worn on and his rebounding and interior scoring would be missed should he be forced to sit.

Having said that, the combination of Bogut, Baynes and Andersen, who continues to thrive every time he dons a green and gold jersey, is enough to cause Lithuania problems defensively.

The confidence that guys like Chris Goulding, Ryan Broekhoff and Brock Motum gained at the end of the group phase will further fuel the Boomers’ offensive resolve, and if we attack as we’ve done to date, I think Andrej Lemanis’ troops will be able to score against this team enough to dictate the pace he wants to see.

As we’ve said all along, the Boomers will need to shoot well to succeed. They didn’t in the warmup game and struggled, but they’re a different team now.

In fact, they’re different from any Boomers team in recent memory.

This is our time to shine. What a way to get revenge for 1996 and 2000 it could be. And if you ask me, we’ll do just that.



Author of the article

When you’re introduced to the NBA as a 6 year old in 1984, staying up late to watch Bird, Magic and Dr. J, it’s pretty hard not to fall in love with the game. I became consumed with the Association, and as my own game was developing, I tried to emulate as much as I could at an early age and learn how to play “the right way”. I have memories as a teenager of being glued to Saturday Basketball on TV and spending every spare cent I had on basketball cards and replica jerseys and so began my obsession with NBA knowledge and stats. I played my first season of Fantasy Hoops in 2002, as my serious playing days were slowing down. I now play in 5 or 6 leagues every year. To say I’m obsessed with Fantasy Hoops would be an understatement. To say I love nothing more than sharing my opinion on a player’s value would be entirely accurate, and I guess, the reason why I’m here. Follow me on twitter: @tomhersz @downtownball

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