Written for NBL.com.au by Tom Hersz
Australia Boomers v Dominican Republic
When: 6.00pm (AEST), Saturday 7 September
Where: Gymnasium of Youth Olympic Games Sport Park, Nanjing, China
Broadcast: Fox Sports More; Kayo Sports
The Boomers should have t-shirts printed saying ‘We survived the Group of Death’ because that’s what it took; Survival skills. Once again this team was challenged and once again they showed their mettle.
There is an underlying self-belief and resilience with this group, something that – credit where it’s due – Andrej Lemanis has helped to cultivate, and that has been leaned on heavily to come up big when it has mattered.
But that’s just it; this team keeps coming through in those moments, which says a lot about their prospects from here on out.
“Australia is a good team. They are really good, you need to be honest. They are one of the best teams in the tournament,” Lithuanian coach Dainius Adomaitis said.
The Boomers ended up topping Group H with a perfect 3-0 record which they now take with them to Nanjing in the newly formed Group L. There they will face two new challenges in France and the Dominican Republic.
Up first is the Caribbean Island who stunned everyone when they defeated Germany on Tuesday to book their place in the second round.
But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. As with the Senegalese, the Dominicans cannot be underestimated. Every win matters in this tournament and while our quest for a medal is in really good shape, we cannot afford to look ahead.
Last time they met
This is only the third time the Dominicans have qualified for the FIBA World Cup / World Championships having played in 2014 and back in 1978.
The only meeting between these two teams was in the 1978 tournament held in Manila, when they faced each other in Group C play. On that day, the Boomers snuck by with a 74-72 win.
Steve Gray led the way with 16 points; Larry Sengstock had 12 points, while Andris Blicavs (father of Sara and Mark), Danny Morseu and Mel Dalgleich each had 8 points.
Results so far
The Dominican Republic finished Group G play with a 2-1 record after losing to France on Thursday night. Like the Boomers, there were no easy wins for the Dominicans.
They tipped off with a four point win over Jordan, 80-76 last Sunday. After leading somewhat comfortably at halftime by 11 points and then pushing their lead to 16 points in the third quarter, Jordan went on an 11-3 run to end the quarter. They then pegged the margin all the way back half way through the fourth, took the lead inside the final minutes, before the Dominicans closed out the game on free throws.
Victor Liz led the way with 15 points, while Eloy Vargas had 12 points and 6 rebounds.
Against Germany – a team they were given little chance of beating – they played a great game. It was a see-sawing affair, where the lead changed 10 times and neither team ever felt comfortable.
Down by two at halftime and up by three at the final break, the Dominicans built an 8-point lead early in the fourth, but couldn’t maintain that margin. They edged ahead again by 6 points inside the final three minutes and managed to hold on for a 70-68 win to knock Germany out of the tournament and punch their own ticket to the second round.
Their defence held Germany to just 36.8% from the field including 3-19 from long range, while their ball movement led to 22 assists on their 27 made field goals. Liz (17 points) and Vargas (16 points) again leading the way.
The Dominicans final Group G game reeked of a team that was happy to have made the second round. They got jumped early and never recovered, putting up just 55 points on 27.9% shooting and generating only two free throw attempts; clearly stifled by France’s defence.
On the other end, they allowed the French to have their way as they scored 90 points on 57.4% from the field. Liz was the only Dominican player in double figures with 12 points.
Through three games, Liz is their leading scorer with 14.7 points per game on 46.7% shooting, including a solid 42.9% from three-point range. Eloy Vargas is averaging 10.3 points and 5.7 rebounds; Ronald Roberts has produced 8.3 points and 5.3 rebounds, while Gelvis Solano has dished out 6 assists per game.
As a team, they are shooting just 32% from deep and 38.5% overall.
Australia closed out Group G with an emphatic win over second-placed Lithuania, 87-82.
It was another game where the Boomers had built a handy lead – as much as 15 points late in the second quarter – with their opponent wrestling back control before Australia’s NBA talent made some huge plays to seal the win.
This game was always going to be the toughest to date, but the Boomers came ready to play. They took control early behind some inspired play from Aron Baynes, Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, building a double digit lead that helped to carry them into the second quarter with momentum.
By half time, the Boomers were in complete control, having executed their game plan to perfection in limiting the Lithuanian’s three-point attempts and the impact of their two bigs in Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis. Baynes was in beast mode, breaking out with 15 points and 6 rebounds in the half.
— NBL (@NBL) September 5, 2019
A slight hiccup to start the third was corrected via a time out from Lemanis and the Boomers pushed the margin out again. While Joe Ingles wasn’t scoring, he was still involved, with 7 assists through three quarters as Australia led by 8 points after three.
The final quarter was where the Boomers showed that self-belief and it was needed. Lithuania chipped away and opened the quarter with an 11-0 run to build a 3 point lead. Mills’ two free throws with 4:53 to play were the first points of the fourth for Australia and from there it was a wrestling match with neither team firing, a lot of free throw attempts and a tied game with 1:59 to play.
But then Patty Mills put the team on his back – as he did at Marvel Stadium two weeks ago against Team USA – and brought the team home. A two-point jumper gave Australia the lead, and then Lemanis put the ball in Patty’s hands to try to seal it.
The Boomers ran a one-four flat set with Mills running down the clock before he called for a Baynes screen to get the switch he was looking for. His eyes lit up as he took an isolation three over Valanciunas with 32 seconds remaining to make it a five-point game.
“Coming down the stretch it was, without a question, ‘We need to get the ball to Patty,’” Lemanis said post-game.
The Boomers sealed it on free-throws and set themselves up for a potential deep run in the tournament by virtue of the extra win they’d carry forward into the second round over the Lithuanians.
Mills finished with a game-high 23 points but it was Baynes who was the game’s best player. His 21 points (3-5 3FGs) and 13 rebounds (6 o-rebs) set the tone, but it was the work he did defensively in limiting Valanciunas’ impact (7 points, 7 rebounds) that was most important.
“Phenomenal, right?” Lemanis said of Baynes.
“He always seems to get up for playing against Lithuania. He enjoys the challenge of going up against true big bodies.”
Ingles managed just two points when he hit the final two free throws, but his 8 assists, five rebounds and one huge steal down the stretch were very much needed to get this win.
“It was always going to be tight, it was always going to be a tussle and I’m really proud of our group for managing to find a way when things got a little bit tough for us,” Lemanis said.
“We stayed together, banded together, kept the belief and found a way to scrap to the win.
“It’s a good time to acknowledge the assistant coaches and the amount of work they have put in on scouting and the development of the game plan, and acknowledging the efforts of the players for executing the game plan.”
Execution like that will put them in good stead as they progress in this tournament and will be needed against the scrappy Dominicans.
Players to Watch – Dominican Republic
Before we get to who to watch against the Boomers tonight, four players who are not here with the Dominican team are NBA All-Stars Karl-Anthony Towns and Al Horford, along with former NBL imports Adris De Leon and Edgar Sosa who both helped their nation qualify for China. Sosa pulled out only a week prior due to medical concerns, while De Leon was one of the last two players cut on the eve of the tournament.
— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) September 3, 2019
Victor Liz: The leading scorer for the Dominican Republic, both in qualifiers and here in China is Liz. He’s a 6’2” shooting guard who plays professionally in the Dominican where he’s won 3 titles and 2 MVP awards. He’s fast, strong and likes attacking the basket where he finishes well in traffic, but he’s also a good three-point shooter (42.9% in China) and must be respected. Liz is a little turnover prone racking up 11 turnovers over his past two games, so if pressured by Mills or Dellavedova, it could present transition opportunities for the Boomers.
Ronald Roberts: If the name sounds familiar, that’s because you’ve heard it before. Roberts was signed by the Adelaide 36ers as an import in August 2017 but was released by Joey Wright on the eve of the NBL18 season due to a knee injury and concerns around fit. Roberts ended up playing in Israel that season before moving to Germany last year. He is an athletic four man who attacks the offensive glass, but has limited range. He took player of the game honours in their opening win over Jordan and will need to be guarded closely around the rim. Roberts is yet to block a shot at the World Cup, but has that ability so Landale, Kay and Baynes will need to finish strongly around him. It will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets from former 36ers teammates in Nathan Sobey and Mitch Creek.
Eloy Vargas: Another big for the Dominicans who has been effective so far is Vargas. At 6’11”, he presents a legitimate challenge for Baynes and Bogut. Vargas is an experienced pro who has played across Europe, South America and the NBA G-League. Before struggling against Rudy Gobert and France, Vargas had two effective games against Jordan and Germany, averaging 14 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting a combined 12-18 from the field and 80% from the free throw line. He has been slowed by foul trouble though, so if Baynes and Bogut attack him, they may be able to get him off the court.
Players to Watch – Australia
Patty Mills: Where would this team be without Mills? It’s probably a question we don’t really want to know the answer to, for as much the Boomers share the ball and play the right way, Mills gives them a legitimate world-class scorer who can ‘get buckets’ when needed. The leading scorer at London 2012 and second leading scorer in Rio, Mills is again leading the way for the Green and Gold with 20 points per game here in China. He struggled from the field against Canada, so he got himself to the free throw line 9 times and dished 6 assists. However he hasn’t struggled since, shooting 50% from the field and 38% from deep in the last two games, while also icing the game against Lithuania. He may not be needed as much in this one, but while he’s feeling it, he’ll just keep getting buckets.
Andrew Bogut: The Bogey man had a rough go of it against Lithuania on Thursday, plagued by foul trouble that ultimately ended his night early. However, the NBL19 MVP has missed just two field goals in China and controlled the boards in their opening win against Canada. Bogut will be looking to make amends for his limited impact on Thursday and ease the load a little on Baynes. His passing is just as important as his rebounding and rim protection and he’ll want to get more involved in this one.
Nick Kay: In his first major FIBA tournament, Kay is getting better each game. He’s found ways to contribute in each one so far and has often been in the closing line-up due to his high IQ and ability to press and run; two traits that will be helpful in this game. Kay does a little of everything and will keep Roberts honest at both ends of the floor. He has been a nice surprise in the way he’s adjusted to the competition and it’s clear Lemanis wants him on the floor. Kay has repaid that faith in each game and will do so again in this one.
BOOMERS | Nick Kay played a pivotal role off the bench in the big win over Lithuania.
— Basketball Australia (@BasketballAus) September 5, 2019
The X-Factors: The Dominican team is not very deep, but one player who could make an impact off the bench is Luis Montero. A 6’7” wing, he had a cup of coffee with the Portland Trail Blazers in the 2015/16 season, playing in 12 games. He was also on a two-way contract with Detroit in 2017/18 appearing in just two games. Montero has NBA range and a smooth handle, allowing him to create his own shot. He’s also an active defender with 6 steals in the first two games. Montero has been inconsistent so far, but could bust out if given the chance.
For the Boomers, a pair of NBL teammates could make an impact off the bench in this game. Chris Goulding has been quiet the past two games, but we know he is capable of volume scoring at any moment. The up and down style of the Dominicans will suit him. His Melbourne United teammate David Barlow is due to have a moment at some point. Lemanis will need to ensure the Boomers defensive rebounding is solid and Barlow can do a job there on Roberts while also spacing the floor at the other end. If given the chance to rest his starters, Lemanis will turn to Barlow to contribute.
What’s at Stake?
A win here would keep the Boomers undefeated and near the top of Group L ahead of their clash with France on Monday. If France defeats Lithuania tonight, then both Australia and France will have advanced to the knockout phase; but that is not enough.
The winner of Group L would likely avoid the USA in the quarterfinals, getting a clearer path to the medal round.
The Boomers best shot at a medal is to do just that, meaning they have to take care of business against the Dominicans. The points differential is less important, as should it come down to tiebreakers, the head-to-head record comes into play first; something Australia now owns over Lithuania by virtue of Thursday’s win.
The Boomers go in big favourites, despite the Dominican Republic beating Germany; a team that Australia lost to in the warm ups. What is more meaningful is how the Dominicans struggled to put away Jordan and then got embarrassed by France.
Depth will likely decide this game and that is a big advantage for Australia. They looked locked in against Lithuania, more so than they had in the opening two games, so assuming that carries over, this one could be done early.
Complacency is the biggest threat to the Boomers, but they learned against Senegal that they have to come ready to play for the full forty minutes. There’s too much at stake.
“We’re staying locked in. We got our ultimate goal in mind,” Mills said after defeating Lithuania.
This is another step to that goal. Australia by 24 points.