Written for NBL.com.au by Tom Hersz
Australia Boomers v Czech Republic
When: 11.00pm (AEST), Wednesday 11 September
Where: Shanghai Oriental Sports Center, Shanghai, China
Broadcast: Fox Sports More; Kayo Sports
The Boomers quest for that elusive medal got real on Monday night.
After what can only be described as an emphatic win over France, the draw has opened up beautifully for possibly our best shot at making the gold medal game.
USA and Serbia – probably the two favourites coming into this tournament – are on the other side of the bracket. And while Serbia was knocked out in an upset at the hands of Argentina last night, that leaves Australia, Spain, Poland and the Czech Republic to battle it out for a shot at the gold.
As a starting point, it is the Czechs that stand in the way between the Boomers and the medal rounds and as the tournament moves to the knockout stages, that is the only opponent that matters right now.
“It’s the way the tournament is. You have to get over the wins very quickly and get focused on the next task and I think it’s important now,” said Lemanis on Monday night.
The way the Boomers went about it against France was impressive and they will not want to lose that momentum with such a great chance to make history in front of them.
Last time they met
This is the first time the Czech Republic has qualified for the FIBA World Cup since it separated from Slovakia in 1993, although the former Czechoslovakia did play at World Cups in 1970, 1974, 1978 and 1982.
At the 1978 World Championships, Australia defeated Czechoslovakia 71-68 in the group phase, playing in Group C.
However the last time Australia faced the Czechs was at the 1980 Moscow Olympic Games in the classification round. On that day, the Boomers also defeated Czechoslovakia 91-86.
Ian Davies was huge with 36 points on 17-27 shooting, while Larry Sengstock had a double-double with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Phil Smyth also had 15 points for the Boomers in his first Olympic campaign.
Australia has never faced the Czech Republic since the separation.
Results so far
The Czech Republic finished Group E with a 2-1 record after losing to the United States in their opening game before taking care of business against Japan and an impressive 15-point win over Turkey.
Moving into the second round, the Czechs sent a message about their quarterfinals hopes, emphatically defeating Brazil 93-71. Tomas Satoransky led the way with 20 points and 9 assists.
Satoransky, their only current NBA player, has put this team on his back at times, elevating their play to a very competitive level.
“You see it every day on the court,” said forward Jaromir Bohacik.
“He is the brain; he is the muscle. I don’t know what else you could say about what he is to our team. He is the leader.”
The crafty point guard who left the Washington Wizards for the Chicago Bulls this offseason has grown up around the national team since he was a teenager. It is clear he is held in high regard by his teammates.
“He’s a leader. He’s our leader. He’s a complete player,” said teammate Blake Schilb.
“I’ve known him since he was just a teenager and the amount he’s grown since then, the maturity on and off the court just means so much. He’s a made man now.”
— Basketball World Cup (@FIBAWC) September 9, 2019
The Czechs had a nervous wait though to see if they’d survive to the knockout phase after losing to Greece on Saturday. However when USA defeated Brazil, the Czechs got through on points differential.
They finished the Group phase with a 3-2 record.
“I don’t have the words about my players,” Head Coach Ronen Ginzburg said.
“Every game they come and show more and more, effort and character. The motto of this national team over the years is to fight like a lion. And that is what they are doing.”
As a team, the Czechs are averaging 83.4 points per game, shooting a solid 48.9% from the field and 42% from long range. They average 10 offensive boards a game, which they convert into 12.6 extra points and they turn the ball over 12.2 times per game.
Bohacik leads the Czechs in scoring with 17.4 points per game, while Satoransky has produced 15.2 points, 6 rebounds and 7.4 assists. Ondrej Balvin is their best big with 10.4 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game, while Blake Schilb has connected on 10-15 three-pointers this tournament.
By contrast, Australia closed out the Group phase with a perfect 5-0 record after wrestling the game back from France in the final moments of an exciting 100-98 win on Monday.
This is the first time the Boomers have won five straight games at a World Cup, but more impressive has been how they’ve overcome every challenge thrown at them; and this was no exception.
“We got down by 9 there in the third quarter; things were going against us and it would have been an easy time to sort of let things slip,” said Lemanis post-game.
“But true to the Boomers’ spirit, we were able to regather ourselves, knuckle down defensively, executed some nice offensive sets to get the rhythm going again.”
This game had a little of everything in it. Hot shooting, great passing, defensive intensity and two teams willing themselves and their teammates to do everything possible for that win. With so much on the line in avoiding the USA in the quarterfinals, it’s no wonder.
The French led by one point after the first quarter, but the Boomers had tied it up at the half; the ninth time to score was tied after the lead changed seven times in the first half. Neither team was able to push away and the Boomers were keeping the French in it with 6 first-half turnovers which led to 13 points. On the other end, France committed zero turnovers for the half.
Nic Batum started hot again but it was Evan Fournier who was the aggressor. Of course countering that for Australia was Patty Mills; both players having 13 points at the main break. More pleasing was the return of Joe Ingles the scorer, as he had 10 points at the half.
The second half saw more of the same until France took control later in the third quarter. A 9-0 run in just over two minutes built a nine-point margin that quickly swung back with Ingles and Mills hitting back-to-back threes. It was a four-point advantage for the French at the final break.
The fourth quarter was one of the best quarters of basketball you’ll ever see. Both teams pushing; players from both sides putting their bodies on the line and some incredible ball movement led to some big shot-making.
Fournier and Mills continued their shootout, while Aron Baynes joined the three-point party and Nando De Colo got some easy transition buckets.
With two minutes to play, the game was still tied and it was going to come down to who could get stops when needed. Easier said than done but ultimately it was a combination of the three charges that Baynes took and then an incredible steal by Mills to all but seal the win in the game’s final seconds.
When all was said and done, the lead had changed an incredible 15 times with the score being tied 17 times, but the Boomers left the floor with the final lead, a fifth straight win, and a seemingly easier path in the knockout phase.
Mills put on a master class with his 30 points (10-18 FGs), while adding 3 assists. Ingles had 23 points (3-7 3FGs) to find his offensive touch, while Baynes was huge with 21 points, hitting an incredible 5-6 from downtown, along with 5 rebounds and those three defensive stops.
— NBL (@NBL) September 10, 2019
“What goes through my mind is just ‘don’t move’, you know, ‘take a hit,’” admitted Baynes when asked about the charges he took.
“I’m just trying to make the right play for our guys. They are busting their arse as best they can to make it tough on their guards; they’re pressuring full court, they’re chasing over, they are doing as much as they can so I have to step up and try to put my body on the line as well.
“When we sacrifice for each other like that it’s a great thing for us. You know, there’s no other group of guys I’d rather be out there going to war with than these bunch of mates.”
Players to Watch – Czech Republic
Tomas Satoransky: The undisputed leader of his team, Satoransky has done a little of everything for his team. A veteran of three NBA seasons now, he’s shown improvement in each one and turned that into a new 3-year / $30 million deal with the Bulls. He is hitting 45% from the field, 43% from deep and has made 20 of 22 free throws in China. At 6’7” he presents a tough matchup for any opponent and it will be interesting to see if Lemanis goes with Dellavedova or Ingles on him.
Attn Bulls fans: While you were sleeping Tomas Satoransky wrecked Brazil and the Czech Republic pulled off a second straight upset in the World Cup.
— Brian Windhorst (@WindhorstESPN) September 7, 2019
Jaromar Bohacik: A 6’6” wing and a veteran of 8 seasons in the Czech National League (NBL), Bohacik has been something of a revelation for Ginzburg’s team in China. Not known as a volume scorer in his home league, he’s scored double digits in every game so far and topped 20 points twice. Bohacik is hitting 42% from deep and is a strong body who can get into the paint. He’ll need to be respected.
Ondrej Balvin: In a team lacking size, Balvin stands out. At 7’1” he will be needed to counter the size (and form) of Baynes as well as the experience of Bogut. Balvin has provided a strong interior presence for the Czechs, grabbing 9.4 rebounds (2.2 o-rebs) to go along with 1.6 blocks. He is shooting a staggering 68.8% from the field. A veteran of the Spanish ACB, Balvin is a smart player who plays solid defence without committing a lot of fouls (2.4 per game). Balvin has had two double-doubles already including 17 points and 11 boards against Turkey.
Players to Watch – Australia
Patty Mills: What more can we say about Patty? He’s making a case as the GOAT of the Green and Gold with his ability to deliver on the grandest of stages. And more than just deliver, he seems to relish the big moments. Mills not only snagged the game-securing steal on Monday against France, but he became the first Aussie to score 30+ points in a World Cup game since Andrew Gaze dropped 33 on Canada in 1998. Mills is the leading scorer in the tournament of those who made it to the knockout stage, averaging 21.8 points at a red-hot 49.3% from the field, but he’s also made 28 of 31 free throws while dishing 4.2 assists and swiping 1.2 steals per game. The heart and soul of the team, he will again be needed to get buckets for the Boomers to advance.
Aron Baynes: It’s becoming clear that this team will struggle without big contributions from its starting five man. Baynes has had some massive moments in the green and gold, but none bigger than his 5 triples and 3 taken charges against France. On the tournament, he’s averaging 14.8 points, 6 rebounds and 1.6 threes, while also hitting at almost 60/50/90 – because apparently 50/40/90 isn’t enough. Baynes is hitting 60.4% from the field, 53.3% from three-point range and 88.9% from the line and he’s a popular pick right now for the tournament all-star five along with his mate Patty. Baynes has always been willing to do whatever is needed to help this team succeed.
“We all sacrifice,” said Baynes post-game.
“We all have been playing together for a long time. It’s our second family. Any time we get together, we know what it’s about; we know what we’re trying to do.
“That’s what it’s about for us, being a Boomer and we definitely live for this. It’s the most fun we all have playing basketball is playing together. Why not try and come out here and make our mark at the same time as well?”
Joe Ingles: Speaking of making his mark, Ingles found his range again versus France. He came out shooting, which is in stark contrast to how he played against the Dominican Republic. When all was said and done, his 23 points were all needed to get the win and Ingles continues to keep things humming for this offence, whether scoring or distributing. He ranks third on the team in scoring, second in assists, third in rebounding, first in steals and best in staredowns to his NBA teammates. But Ingles is such an important cog in how this offence runs that when he’s firing, it gives the team another gear.
The X-Factors: At 35 years old, Blake Schilb is certainly an x-factor for this Czech team. He is a naturalised American and his ability to run the offence at times as a point forward, or knock down shots as the best three-point shooter on the team, gives Ginzburg some different looks he can utilise. Schilb has hit a staggering 10 from 15 threes in China including a 6 for 7 outburst on his way to 22 points versus Japan. Schilb did not play versus Greece due to an ankle injury, but if he can get back for this game, he can be the spark this team needs to counter a deep Boomers roster.
Mitch Creek was fantastic tonight .. makes big plays wether it’s getting a stop or coming up big on the boards – talk about someone making the most of his opportunities
— Michele Timms (@michele_timms) September 9, 2019
No surprise to anyone who’d seen him play in the qualifiers, but Mitch Creek has had some very impactful moments for Andrej Lemanis in this tournament. It may not always show up in the box score, but Creeky’s ability to disrupt, to push the ball, to rebound and to play honest defence are earning him more minutes, as evident in his tournament-high 18 minutes against France. Creek was on the floor to close the game and came up big with some key plays down the stretch. There’s no doubt he’ll be needed to do the same to avoid elimination in this one.
What’s at Stake?
Win or go home. It’s that simple.
But for the Boomers; a nation that has been starved of medal success in Men’s international basketball, this represents more than just an elimination game. It represents a defining moment where this team has the opportunity to fulfil a goal that stems from the belief that they can actually win it all.
A path to fulfilling that goal has opened up in a manner not expected and the first step to walking that path is by taking care of the Czech Republic tonight.
They’re a team that has probably over-achieved somewhat to get to this point, but that makes them even more dangerous.
“There’s no fluke that they’re in the quarterfinals; they’ve absolutely earned their position there,” Lemanis said of the Czechs.
“They’ve got – as I understand it – a good mix of inside/outside, they play defence; they’re a tough European basketball nation. So again, we need to come correct.
“The pattern which we’ve been so far is good game and then, sort of, took our foot off the gas a little bit. I think more mentally than anything coming into the next games, it’s important that we bring the same intent mentally to that next game.
“It’s the quarterfinal of the World Cup. If we can’t get up for that then we don’t deserve to win, but I’m confident that we will.”
There are those that look at the Boomers’ inability to put anyone away in this tournament so far as a cause for concern. But there are also those who recognise that being one of four teams to be undefeated at 5-0 coming into the knockout rounds means something.
The Boomers have shown tremendous resiliency in overcoming obstacles in basically every game and that says a lot about their character as a group.
“We’ll come out and we play how we play and they play how they play, and the result will go as it goes,” added Lemanis.
“But as long as we play like the Boomers and obviously the passion with which Aron speaks to, it permeates throughout the group; and we play with that passion and commitment to it then good things tend to happen for us with the skillsets that we’ve got.”
The Boomers come into this game with a lot of confidence following that win over France and should use that to stay in control, even if the Czech’s – playing with house money at this stage – make a run.
With more depth and more top to bottom talent, Australia is expected to win and if they do, a chance at redemption against a Spanish team that broke our collective hearts in Rio awaits.
“There’s a real belief from this team that we’re good enough to win it,” Lemanis explained.
“And belief’s an important element, skill’s and important element, teamwork’s an important element; you need a little bit of luck sometimes too, but belief is good to have.”
There is too much at stake for this team to let this opportunity slip. They believe and we should too.
Australia by 17 points.