Starting Five: How Brilliant Boomers Beat Lithuania

Starting Five: How Brilliant Boomers Beat Lithuania

Five thoughts on the Australian Boomers’ 87-82 win over Lithuania at the FIBA World Cup from NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria.

 

YOU BLOODY BEAUTY!

Australia’s win over Lithuania saw the Boomers secure top spot in Group H and has set them up perfectly for an attack on the World Cup’s second week.

It was a stirring victory – one that will long be remembered by Aussie hoops fans – and was achieved through some seriously gutsy play from our boys in green and gold.

The best part: just how locked in the Boomers were for the full forty minutes.

Whereas Australia’s first two games were marred by costly lapses in concentration and drop-offs in intensity, there was a laser focus about the Boomers last night – a ferocious competitiveness that saw them attack every possession at both ends of the floor.

Sure, there were times when the Boomers’ offence dried up or their defence broke down, but their effort, concentration and application were on point.

Head coach Andrej Lemanis often encapsulates all of this with his favourite word, ‘intent’, and Australia’s intent was always there.

“That’s why you love being involved in international basketball. That was a great game between two very good teams who play a nice brand of basketball,” Lemanis commented postgame.

“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.”

With their offense flowing superbly, the Boomers were on fire in the opening half as they drained 9 three-pointers from 14 attempts and put 52 points on the board.

Lithuania made things tougher after the break as they lifted their defensive intensity – they even hit the lead a number of times during a see-sawing final quarter – but the Boomers held their nerve behind some trademark Aussie grit and some inspired play from NBA veterans Patty Mills and Aron Baynes.

It was a performance that drew some serious praise from Lithuanian head coach Dainius Adomaitis.

“Australia is a good team. They are really good, you need to be honest. They are one of the best teams in the tournament,” Adomaitis said.

“I’ve known Australian basketball a long time. I’ve been really impressed with what they’ve done the last 10-15 years. The whole system, from the youth basketball to the national team.

“I know Coach Lemanis very well. It’s a huge job what they’ve done. They are now at the top of everything. They’re tough to beat.”

 

THE SHOT

With the game on the line and the ball in their hands, the Aussies kept things simple – handing the rock to their most dynamic offensive player and letting him go to work.

Up two… less than a minute on the clock… Patty knew exactly what to do.

The Boomers veteran smartly ran down some clock, forced a switch off a well-timed screen from Baynes and then put the moves on 7-foot centre Jonas Valanciunas – driving him onto his heels before whipping it behind his back and drilling a game-winning step-back three.

“Coming down the stretch it was, without a question, ‘We need to get the ball to Patty,’” Lemanis said.

“Joe (Ingles) was like, ‘I’m not feeling it tonight, get it into Patty’s hands.’ He was talking about who he wanted setting the screen and everyone was buying in.”

Ingles was a valuable contributor – he threw a game-high 8 assists and his clutch free throws with 9 seconds left helped ice the game – but his radar had been a little off throughout the night.

Mills, on the other hand, was flowing. He already had 20 on the board and had slapped a big-time fade-away a minute earlier to grab the lead.

It was yet another moment for Patty to shine in the green and gold. And just as he did two weeks ago in Melbourne, he delivered.

 

BIG-TIME BAYNES

Another Boomer who came up trumps in the heat of last-night’s crucial clash was Baynes, who delivered arguably his finest performance in the green and gold.

The ‘Big Banger’ completely dominated Lithuania’s frontline, finishing with a massive 21-point, 13-rebound double-double.

He was a nightmare to guard in pick-and-rolls, a constant presence on the offensive glass and even made it rain from outside, draining 3-of-5 triples in a virtuoso offensive performance.

What was equally as impressive though, was Baynes’ work at the defensive end. The Boomers centre was really effective in pick-and-roll coverages (more on that in a minute) and, with the Aussies opting for single-coverage defence in the block, Baynes (and Bogut) managed those situations well, limiting Valanciunas to just 7 points.

“Phenomenal,” was how Lemanis described Baynes’ performance.

“He always seems to get up to play against Lithuania. He enjoys the challenge, I guess, of going up against some true big bodies.

“We speak about it a lot that in international basketball you need the size, you need the beef. There are big men playing this game and we’re thankful that we have some skilled big men playing as well.”

 

PICK AND ROLL COVERAGES

Okay… let’s get into this.

The Boomers’ ability to defend pick-and-roll actions has been under the microscope recently, with many characterising it as a weakness of the squad’s defensive schemes.

Against Lithuania, however, the Boomers’ coverages were really well executed and helped the Aussies largely dictate terms at that end of the floor.

Yes, the ‘Lithos’ found space out of these actions for a whole bunch of mid-range jumpers, but having them take those shots was very much part of the Aussies’ game plan.

Take away the three-ball, limit their attempts at the rim and keep them off the foul line – that’s the Boomers’ approach at the defensive end. It’s all about playing the percentages. If they want to try beating us shooting long-twos and pull-ups from mid-range, we’re happy to play those odds.

The execution of that overarching defensive strategy, of course, starts with how the Boomers defend the pick-and-roll.

Instead of forcing the ball towards the pick and bringing the big up to the point of the screen, the more ‘traditional’ way of guarding the pick-and-roll, the Aussies look to blow up the action the opposite way. They ‘ICE’ the screen, with the on-ball defender (usually Dellavedova or Mills) forcing the ball away from the pick and the big (often Bogut or Baynes) sitting deep in the hole. The idea here is to stay connected to the ball (thus taking away a three-point attempt) and have the big defender protect against attacks on the rim.

When they get it right – and the Boomers got it right time and time again on Thursday night – this scheme has a number of positive outcomes.

Firstly, it dictates terms. No threes, no lay-ups, no free-throws. Just long twos.

Boomers forward Nick Kay, who was outstanding in his minutes, commented on this approach postgame.

“It came down to executing the game plan and I think we did a good job of that,” Kay said.

“The scout was really good and what we said we wanted to live with, we did. That’s credit to the coaching staff.”

The second thing this scheme does is it keeps the Boomers out of rotations. Nobody else needs to get involved in the pick-and-roll coverage, leaving the three other defenders attached to their guys. No threes, remember?

Oh, and staying out of rotations also helps in another massively important way: all five guys can block out their guy and the Boomers can finish possessions on the defensive glass. The Aussie gave up just one offensive rebound across the entire first half on Thursday night.

“To keep them to four made three-point shots is pretty impressive and a big reason why we won the game,” Lemanis remarked.

“And to keep them to nine offensive rebounds was also pretty good for us.”

The Boomers falter with this coverage when they either a) lose connection with the ball (often caused by the screener changing the angle of their screen) or b) the big sits too deep initially and creates zero indecision in the ball-handler’s mind.

These mistakes happened a couple of times against Lithuania but some well-timed reminders from Lemanis largely put that fire out.

Here’s the thing: the Boomers know what they’re doing. There’s a plan in place when guarding these actions – they’re all on the same page – and last night it worked out beautifully.

 

TALL BLACKS GALLANT IN GREEK DEFEAT

The Tall Blacks went down to Greece last night in a must-win clash but man, they played well.

Led by yet another superb performance from Corey Webster (31 points, 4 assists), the Kiwis hung tough against the highly-talented Greek squad, eventually going down 103-97.

The loss denied New Zealand, who finished their pool play with a 1-2 record, of a spot in the second round of the tournament. They will now enter the minor classification playoffs for positions 17-32.

“We’re disappointed that we’re not through to the next round (because) that was our goal when we came here,” head coach Paul Henare said.

“But I think we showed that we belong here… whilst there’s disappointment for myself and for the players and for the group, there’s definitely a sense of pride there.”

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