After an amazing win against France in the opener, things will likely get a little tougher for the Boomers. In fact, this game may be the most important of the group stage as it could determine whether Australia finishes second or third in Group A.
Another win and the Boomers are all but assured to avoid Spain in the quarter-final crossover. Lose and there would suddenly be no margin for error against China and Venezuela.
The game is set for 3:15 a.m. AEST on Tuesday.
“They’re one of the best teams in Europe, year in and year out,” Andrew Bogut said about Serbia.
“They play a different style [than France], probably not as many talented individuals but a much better team as far as cohesiveness.”
While on paper Serbia has less top-line talent than the Boomers, this is a nation that got hot two years ago in Spain at the World Cup and went all the way to the gold medal game against the U.S., leaving with silver.
That result may have flattered the Serbs, as they had to go through the recent qualifying tournament in Belgrade to punch their ticket to Rio, and this will be their first Olympics since splitting from Montenegro. But they’re not to be taken lightly.
The last time the Aussies played Serbia was at the 2010 World Championship in Turkey where they defeated the Boomers 94-79, led by Milos Teodosic.
This incarnation of the Serbian team still features Teodosic, now 29 and still one of the best guards outside the NBA. He’s been earning a living at CSKA Moscow for the past five years, winning a Euroleague title, two All-Euroleague first team honours and twice making the All-Euroleague second team.
There are better players but there are not five better passers in the world than Serbia's Milos Teodosic.
— Fran Fraschilla (@franfraschilla) August 7, 2016
In many ways, Serbia will go as far as he takes them and he’ll prove a very difficult matchup for Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills, even if he’s coming off the bench. You can almost bet that Andrej Lemanis will deploy Kevin Lisch or Damian Martin for a stint to slow him down, as the coach did against Tony Parker in the second half of the opening game.
Teodosic can hurt opponents in a variety of ways. In Euroleague play last season for CSKA Moscow he shot .428 on threes, .468 from the field, and dished out 5.7 assists per game in 26.8 minutes. In addition, he gets to the line four-five times a game, where he converts at close to 90 percent. He’s a handful and will be one of the better point guards in the tournament in Rio, despite having a quiet game in Serbia’s comfortable 86-62 win over Venezuela on Sunday.
In addition to Teodosic, Serbia’s roster is headlined by Denver Nuggets centre Nikola Jokic and 2014 first-round draftee Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Jokic is a talented big man with range who averaged 10.8 points and nine rebounds per game after the All-Star break as a rookie, but he has limited experience in FIBA play. He dominated the qualifying tournament last month with 17.8 points and 7.5 rebounds, including 23 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the final versus Puerto Rico, but he’ll find it tougher in Rio. He played just 19 minutes for four points and seven rebounds in Serbia’s opening game.
Bogdanovic is one of the up-and-coming players to watch in this tournament. A talented shooting guard who the Phoenix Suns grabbed at the end of the first round in 2014, his draft rights were traded to Sacramento at this year’s draft. He’s been playing for Fenerbahce in Turkey and will stay in Europe this coming season, but will likely transition Stateside for the 2017-18 season.
Bogdanovic is a prototypical shooting guard who can hit from range (.400 from three last season) as well as attack the rim with solid athleticism. At 23 years old, he’s coming into his own as a player and has been aggressive with the national team in recent tournaments, averaging 12 points in Spain in 2014 and 17.8 points along with six assists and 5.2 rebounds in the recent qualifying tournament.
On Sunday, he showcased that offensive talent, leading Serbia with 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 from deep against Venezuela.
It will be interesting to see who Lemanis counters Bogdanovic with defensively, but expect Delly and Ryan Broekhoff to spend time on him in this game.
Bogdanovic’s teammate at Fenerbahce is a veteran 6-foot-8 small forward in Nikola Kalinic. One of those complementary players who has the ability to break out for a big game every now and then (as he did in the qualifying tournament final last month), Kalinic has to be honoured from downtown and also kept off the boards. Joe Ingles and Broekhoff will be familiar with that style of play and will look to keep him quiet.
In addition to Jokic, the Boomers will have to counter ex-Minnesota Timberwolves centre Miroslav Raduljica on the interior. Aside from battling Aron Baynes for the next cameo on Vikings, he’ll keep both Baynes and Bogut honest on the boards, as he’s a relentless hustle guy who had great success at the World Cup.
That was evident against Venezuela as he feasted inside, doing his best Bogut impression with 18 points on 7-of-8 field goals, four rebounds and three dimes. If Bogey and Baynes can replicate their interior dominance from the France game, however, they can counter Raduljica comfortably enough.
The Serbian team also has veteran leadership from a pair of Stefans, Markovic and Bircevic, who have both been playing in Spain’s ACB. Markovic starts, splitting point guard duties with Teodosic, and can impact a game on both ends of the floor. Bircevic is an improved stretch four who can fill it up from deep. He hit over 40 percent from range in the ACB two seasons ago before struggling this past season, but also connected on 42 percent at the World Cup in 2014.
Serbia is a danger game for the Aussies because of that very ability to get hot. With the exception of Raduljica, most of their rotation players have to be respected from the perimeter and that makes them tough to defend.
In their opening game they attempted 17 triples, hitting just six, but didn’t need to bomb away with Venezuela’s lack of size to counter any moves to the rim. That won’t happen against the Boomers, who will force them to knock down shots from the perimeter.
The Boomers will need to counter by continuing to attack the rim, as Serbia has a distinct lack of shot-blocking itself. If Baynes, Cam Bairstow and Bogut can be aggressive inside as they were against France, the Aussies can avoid getting into a shootout in this one. That will also limit long rebounds off our misses, which could lead to transition opportunities; instead, the Boomers should benefit from those chances as the Serbs fire away from long range.
Given the confidence the Aussies have after that win over France, this game is also very winnable, but will be tough. That’s what the Olympic journey is about though. If we’re to get to that podium, this is the sort of game we have to control.
“We need to have the right mindset. We’ve not done anything yet. We’ve won one game, that doesn’t mean anything,” Bogut said.
“We need to back this up against Serbia and then continue on from there.”
The Boomers have made a great start and need to keep it going. This is a huge game for Australia’s medal chances.