Starting Five: World Cup Heartbreak

Starting Five: World Cup Heartbreak

Five thoughts on the Australian Boomers’ 95-88 double overtime loss to Spain in the Semi-Finals of the FIBA World Cup from NBL Media’s Liam Santamaria.

 

HEARTBREAK

Ugh. That was gut-wrenching.

Australia had control of last night’s semi-final with Spain for most of the night but let it slip late in regulation – and again during a second period of overtime – as the Spaniards claimed a hard-fought victory.

The Boomers were brave, there’s no doubt about that. Patty Mills put up a tournament-high 34 points (despite being hounded by multiple defenders all night), Matthew Dellavedova played himself to exhaustion while Perth Wildcats star Nick Kay notched up an impressive double-double in a magnificent performance off the bench.

But the ‘Boomers spirit’ wasn’t enough as turnovers and an inability to consistently generate good looks against Spain’s suffocating defence ultimately cost the Aussies a shot at World Cup gold.

“That was a hell of a game of basketball. It was fun to be involved with,” head coach Andrej Lemanis commented post-game.

“I’m really proud of our team and the way we got after it. You certainly can’t question the effort and intensity with which we played.

“There’s no doubt it is tough to lose, but Spain is a good basketball team and they played well. It comes down to a couple of plays here and there and that’s the way it goes.”

The Boomers will now look to recover, both mentally and physically, for a third-place clash with France tomorrow.

It won’t be for gold, the stated aim of this inspirational Boomers group. It will, however, be for a special place in Australian basketball history.

 

WE HAD OUR CHANCES

The most difficult part to accept about last night’s loss is the feeling that the Boomers had that game.

After all, they led for almost the entire second half. At times that lead stretched out to double-figures.

The Spaniards are battle-tested, however, and they clawed their way back, finally edging ahead with less than ten seconds left after a dubious foul call on Andrew Bogut under the basket.

Then there was Patty’s missed free throw. Heading to the stripe for two freebies with just four seconds left in regulation (after another questionable call, it must be said), Mills tied the game with his first attempt but the potential game-winner rimmed out, sending the contest to OT.

“At the end of the day we had chances to win the game,” Lemanis said.

“Spain made some nice plays, they’re a good basketball team (but) we had some opportunities.

“Perhaps I played people too long and they were a little tired but, at the end of the day, we had every opportunity to win the game and sometimes it just doesn’t happen for you.”

 

PATTY MILLS AS STEPH CURRY

Spanish coach Sergio Scariolo used a smart defensive change-up down the stretch last night, slapping a box and one on Australia’s leading scorer, Patty Mills.

It was a move that stifled the Boomers’ free-flowing offensive system in some of the game’s biggest moments, with Mills (mostly) unable to shake free and others playing hesitantly with the ball.

Scariolo, don’t forget, is an assistant coach with the Toronto Raptors; the NBA champions who implemented the same defensive strategy at times during this year’s NBA Finals to combat Golden State Warriors sharpshooter Steph Curry.

 

NICK KAY, TAKE A BOW

In the heat of a World Cup Semi-Final, Nick Kay was absolutely enormous.

Playing a tournament high 31 minutes, the Perth Wildcats workhorse finished with 16 points and 11 boards – the first ever double-double recorded by a Boomer in a knockout or final four game at a World Cup or Olympics.

Kay hauled down a massive seven of those boards at the offensive end, where he did a mountain of work to gain the Boomers extra possessions in crucial situations. No Boomers player has ever pulled down more o-boards in a World Cup or Olympics game.

Playing almost the entire fourth quarter and overtime periods, Kay made a series of big plays that nearly got Australia over the line.

The first was a bone-crunching terror screen on Spanish wing Rudy Fernandez early in the fourth– an opportunistic pick that led to an easy basket and an eight-point Boomers lead.

A couple of his big offensive boards resulted in key fourth quarter buckets – one for Mills and one for himself – before yet another o-board gifted the Aussies possession with a one-point lead and just 35 seconds on the clock.

But wait, there’s more: Another piece of Kay’s trademark hustle helped tie the game midway through the first OT.

“We definitely left it all out on the court. Sometimes it doesn’t always go your way,” the All-NBL First Team forward said postgame.

“The way the boys fought tonight was a credit to the mate-ship and brotherhood that this group’s got.”

In his first major tournament in the green and gold, Kay has exemplified that fighting spirit just as much as anyone.

 

WHAT IF PATTY HAD GOT A PIECE OF THAT BALL?

In a game as close as that one, there are always a bunch of ‘what if’ moments that could potentially have swung the result.

What if Patty had made both free throws? What if Gasol had missed just one? What if Kay had finished that lay-up in OT? What if ‘Jingles’ had shot it with confidence? What if Goulding had played more down the stretch? What if the refs had swallowed their whistles?

The biggest of those moments, for me, came with four and a half minutes left in regulation and the Boomers holding a seven-point lead.

A stop and a score in that moment would’ve put the Aussies in a commanding position to win the game and Patty Mills knew it. He also had the read.

Spain had started to milk their pick-and-pop action with Marc Gasol and Mills, who was guarding Pau Ribas on the weak-side wing, knew exactly where the ball was going.

He also knew when it was going there and with his plan in place, the Aussie superstar was ready to pounce.

As Spanish point guard Sergio Llull peeled off Gasol in the opposite direction, Mills started edging towards the spot like a leopard stalking its prey.  When the pass was made to Gasol, Patty went in for the kill.

Had he got a piece of it, Mills would’ve streamed down court to a wide open basket – an almost-certain two points that would’ve put the Boomers up nine with four minutes remaining. That probably would’ve been enough. That probably would’ve sent them to the gold medal game.

But he didn’t. He missed.

The speedy guard was just a moment too late and when Gasol caught it, Patty was left wildly out of position. The Spanish centre flipped the ball to a wide open Ribas – Patty’s man – who stepped in and drilled a three.

That triple cut the Boomers’ lead to four and after Spain combined a stop and a score on the next two possessions, it was suddenly a one-bucket game.

Mills’ decision to leave his man in that moment was a bold one. Fortune usually favours the bold. He knew that pass was going to Gasol and had he picked it off, it likely would’ve been a game-winning play.

But it was also a play that ran contrary to everything the Boomers’ have been doing defensively these past few weeks. Australia’s entire defensive strategy at the World Cup has revolved around staying at home on shooters and preventing three-point attempts.

“No threes,” Mills could be heard barking into a time-out earlier in the game. In that moment, however, Patty risked it and it didn’t pay off.

Of course, the Boomers’ leading scorer cannot be blamed for the loss. Not by a long shot. He was marvellous all tournament and battled meritoriously against Spain.

But… what if he’d got a piece of that ball? If he had, I think we’d have won that game.

 

BONUS: BOUNCE BACK FOR THIRD

It won’t be easy but the Boomers will need to quickly move on from the heartbreak of last night’s loss.

Our men’s national team has never finished inside the top three at a major international tournament. Now is the time.

“The FIBA World Cup is not over,” Kay said.

“We’ve still got another chance to win our first medal… we’re going to come out and fight and do everything we can to make sure that we come home with that medal.”

One final win over France will get that done, setting the scene for another run at gold in nine months’ time.

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