It was the game that stopped a nation, as all eyes in Australia were fixated on a sparkling performance giving testament to just how far Australian basketball has come.
The Boomers went toe-to-toe with Team USA, and if not for an all-world shooting night from Carmelo Anthony, might have just pulled out the win.
Afterwards, there were mixed feelings. The Australian basketball public was proud, claiming a moral victory and knowing we got damn close.
However one poor reporter from Channel 7 copped the full brunt of the Boomers’ newfound self-belief and winning attitude in a postgame interview with Andrew Bogut.
Bogey talking truths just shattered that poor reporter’s spirit … 😳 https://t.co/0IRMo3ePYj
— Tom Hersz (@tomhersz) August 11, 2016
“We’re not going to take small moral victories,” Bogut said.
“We’re disappointed, that’s kind of the attitude change we’ve had in this group of guys,” he continued.
Patty Mills agreed, knowing that it was a great test, but they let one get away.
“There’s a lot of things we can do to get better and that’s what we are here to do,” Mills said.
That starts with their next game in Group A against China, which tips at 3:15 a.m. AEST Saturday.
Let’s be honest, the Boomers have played the toughest three opponents in Group A already. The way they’ve played, they’re expected to win the last two games easily and that’s exactly why they’re danger games.
This is no time to take their foot off the gas. No time to go through the motions and wait for the quarter-finals.
In fact, it’s the exact opposite. It’s time to work on the things they’ll need to do better to reverse that scoreline should the Boomers face the U.S. again in the gold medal game.
And that is where China, with its tall frontline and penchant for blocking shots and getting in passing lanes, can help prepare our boys.
Sure, China is dead last in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game, and leads the way in fouls, but it’s also tied with the U.S. in steals per game with 9.3 (which ranks first) and in blocks per game at 2.7 (ranking seventh).
The Boomers had 17 turnovers against the U.S. yesterday and now rank ninth in that category (fourth worst), so playing a team that will force us into playing smarter and more efficiently is a good thing as we strive to improve ahead of the knockout phase.
The Aussies also gave up 21 offensive rebounds to a team that averaged just 17 O-boards against China and Venezuela, so that’s another area we need to improve.
China sports a team with four seven-footers and usually starts two of them (Yi Jianlian and either Zhou Qi or Wang Zhelin), as well as a 6-9 small forward in captain Zhou Peng.
In other words, they’re long and we’ll need to use our physicality to keep them off the O-boards and push their bigs out to open up the driving lanes.
Playing physically is not an issue for the Boomers. Just ask Paul George. And while assistant coach Luc Longley responded by saying “Tell ’em that’s international basketball,” you can rest assured that the referees will be watching how we play from here on out.
Zhou Qi and Wang were both second-round NBA draft picks in June, by Houston and Memphis respectively, and Yi is the second-leading scorer in the tournament behind Mills, so we cannot take the Chinese lightly.
We have to go in aggressively and with the mindset of aiming to improve in each game.
Part of that improvement needs to come from the bench, which had a cumulative plus-minus of minus-36 against the U.S., after a minus-24 against Serbia. Whether that’s a fair measure or not, you can see our momentum shift slightly as our second unit settles into games and that needs to be eradicated before the knockout phase.
Guys like Brock Motum, Chris Goulding and Damian Martin will get a chance to play more in this game and the next, and Andrej Lemanis will be looking to see who he can trust to throw in for some spot minutes or as an X-factor or change-of-pace type later in the tournament, should things not be going our way.
Goulding had some nice minutes yesterday against the U.S. with two dimes, two boards and a steal, but he’s yet to hit a field goal in four tries in Rio.
Martin leads the Olympics in three-point percentage and highlight reel steals against NBA MVPs (which his wife is kinda proud of), but again has not really had a chance to show what kind of impact he can have defensively.
Motum, who started most of the warmup games, has looked tentative and almost scared when on the floor and could really use a confidence boost from these next two games.
Even Cam Bairstow and Ryan Broekhoff, who’ve both had some nice moments mixed in with some hesitation, will benefit from some extra reps, as will Joe Ingles, who is still rounding into form after missing part of the warmup series.
Lemanis will likely afford them that and also be grateful to be able to reduce the workload for Bogut and possibly Matthew Dellavedova and Mills a little, without interrupting their rhythm.
The Chinese will go in as massive underdogs, but with nothing to lose, the Boomers have to treat them with the same respect and intensity they’ve shown their opponents in the first three games and keep on building momentum.
Losing one of these last two games would be disastrous when we’ve got second place in Group A all but sewn up, so the focus needs to remain on the end goal of stepping onto that podium.
“We’re here to do something Australia has never done,” said Mills after losing to Team USA. “It’s going to be a long couple of weeks and we’re going to keep chipping away.”
Follow me on Twitter @tomhersz
Follow Downtown @downtownball