A 20-point loss to Canada to begin preparations might not have been ideal for the Australian Boomers, but coach Andrej Lemanis is real enough to know the first game of any campaign will highlight some areas needed for improvement and that’s exactly what it did.
Given the expectations on this Boomers team heading to the FIBA World Cup in China with the first game there against Canada on September, the opes were high of an impressive showing straight out of the blocks in the first of the exhibition matches in Perth on Friday night.
But it wasn’t to be and Canada, despite having just one current NBA player in its squad, looked to be the well-oiled machine who had played together already this campaign while the Boomers team looked like a group who had been working hard in camp, and was playing together for the first time.
And it looked like because that was the reality. While Canada looked impressive in winning 90-70 and they didn’t even need a lot out of the Orlando Magic’s Khem Birch. The Canadians made 14/32 from downtown with Kevin Pangos nailing four of those on his way to a game-high 18 points.
It was an efficient game from Canada as they shot 45 per cent from the field and 40 per cent from deep while having 19 assists to just nine turnovers and were able to convert 18 points from Australia’s 15 turnovers.
There was lots for the Boomers to improve on at the defensive end and offensively too, they were perhaps too happy to settle for the three ball going 6/34 for the night including Patty Mills jacking up 13 of them and making four, while Joe Ingles and Matthew Dellavedova combined to go 1/12.
The Boomers did appear to have an advantage inside and scored 50 points in the paint with Jock Landale tremendous with 18 points and eight rebounds on 8/14 shooting while Andrew Bogut also had 10 points and 13 boards but they perhaps didn’t pay full toll on that.
However, the reality is it was the Boomers first game together in this World Cup preparation. They have another hit out now on Saturday night also at RAC Arena and also against Canada, and that’s where Lemanis’ focus immediately turned.
“No one enjoys losing, that’s for sure, but you can’t lose sight of what this is and the process that we are going through,” Lemanis said.
“We are building towards August 31 and we’ll take some things out of this game and we have a short turnaround to come out tomorrow and I expect us to play with an intensity and intent that is representative of Boomers basketball.”
Digging a little bit deeper on the things that Lemanis would like the Boomers to learn from that opening game against Canada and now improve on moving forward, defensively he feels they can do significantly better at denying the good shooters on the Canadian team.
But sometimes it’s all about that desire to hustle and push through to follow the scout that is key and that only comes from spending more time back on the court and as a group, which Lemanis is confident will develop over the next couple of weeks heading into the World Cup.
Ultimately though, Lemanis knows that the first game of any preparation is never going to be pretty and while everyone inside the Boomers camp is realistic of where things are at, he definitely urges those on the outside to now not ‘lose their minds’ over one result.
“It depends on how they get them and what are the looks. A few times Bogues was sitting off their big and that’s a scouting thing to let him have them, and he missed them which is all fine, but Wiltjer is someone who that is what he does and we had some breakdowns there to give him some open ones,” Lemanis said.
“Then they had the intensity to scramble for offensive rebounds and they got nine points off offensive rebounds in the first half as well so some of that is about us finishing the play. Then if they come up with it, we have to get in the scramble and Wiltjer can’t be left wide open off that and Pangos obviously got some wide open threes off the back end of that.
“This is part of the learning too because they are a team that has a multitude of three-point shooters and that’s what they do. We have to understand our spacing and we’ve just been playing ourselves so you get used to where you space on the floor and we’re much more of a movement and penetration type of offence.
“Now suddenly you are playing against guys who really stretch the floor and you have to work out how much you can be in versus staying connected to your man, and where the spacing is on it all and what we are prepared to live for. There’s lots of good learnings to come from this and it’s important that we don’t lose our minds.”
While Lemanis wouldn’t be drawn into any of the buzz words like ‘reality check’ or ‘wake up call’ after the game, he does acknowledge that a loss can sometimes magnify the work still required and areas of improvement needed.
“It’s interesting that I think you can get attention after losses sometimes more than you can after wins when everyone cruises around and thinks everything is alright. Whereas after losses there’s more of a feeling of knuckling down to figure out what we need to do to get better,” Lemanis said.
“It is just about getting back into the rhythm of the game again and some of that is evident by us having nine turnovers in the first half and then we opened the third quarter with back-to-back turnovers after some great defensive possessions where we could have built a little bit of momentum.
“They were all decent plays that we would usually expect to make and they were just signs of getting back into game rhythm for sure.”
Landale was without question the shining light on the night in Perth for the Boomers. Not only did he put up 18 points and eight rebounds on the 8/14 shooting in his 28 minutes of court time, but it was aggressiveness and poised that he played with that was most impressive.
The 23-year-old earned the start which might have been a surprise to some, but not for long as the Lithuanian player for Zalgiris Kaunas continues to show that his potential has no ceiling.
But he too felt there were areas for him to work on now moving forward coming out of the game.
“It was the first real game we’ve had together against other competition and we have a lot of new guys in this system. I think we had the training wheels on a little bit tonight, but they’ll definitely come off tomorrow and it has lit a fire under us,” Landale said.
“We just have to stay the course, keep chipping away and once September 1 comes around, we all have the confidence that you will see a completely different team. We have practiced together for two weeks but it’s a completely different thing when you are playing out on the court.
“It’s all about finding the spacing and things like where Patty wants to get his shots because a lot of the time I felt like I was crowding people’s space speaking for myself. We need to figure out who wants what and where we want it, and give the guys some room.
“The biggest thing we took out of it was that we needed to space the floor more so that when the pick-and-roll happens, we aren’t all standing clustered in the one spot.
“Then on the defensive end, we gave easy shots and I think they were living and dying by the mid-range jumpers and hit them. We need to do something else to get them out of there and maybe not give up as many threes.
“We’re figuring each other out as we go and we will do that over the next couple of weeks, and I think we’ll be good.”