Despite a gut-wrenching loss to Serbia, Australia remains focused on making basketball history – not repeating it.
The Boomers cinderella run through the group stages had the nation believing a chance at a gold medal was possible until their semi-final loss to Serbia which NBA small forward Joe Ingles labelled “pathetic”.
“We’re all very disappointed, it’s not how we pictured it going,” point guard Matthew Dellavedova added.
Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis admitted Australia’s pride had taken a significant hit and said their third-place battle against heavyweights Spain would offer the chance to restore credibility on the global stage.
“It’s a good test of character for us now in terms of how we bounce back,” Lemanis said.
“We haven’t really been challenged with that in this tournament.
“I’m very confident these guys and we will come out and play the game the right way,” Lemanis said.
As much as the Boomers are hurting after their 61-87 loss to Serbia, arguably the Spaniards are also still coming to grips with their own loss, a 76-82 defeat by the USA.
Pau Gasol and his Spanish countrymen have spent a decade looking to dethrone the USA basketball team, something they were unsuccessful in doing on Saturday. Spain took the 2008 “Redeem Team” down to the wire at Beijing and since then have focused on developing a strong continuity throughout their roster with their own goals of taking down the “unbeatable” Americans.
While the Spaniards have been so far unsuccessful in that goal, they match up against the Australian’s as favourites and a much stronger unit.
Spain has followed the successful blueprint established by the Argentinians who defeat the USA in 2004 by keeping a strong core of players together for multiple Olympic campaigns. Six of the players that made an appearance in the 2008 gold medal game are still on the team today, and the carry-over from 2012 is even greater, with nine of the silver medalists from London appearing in Rio.
Those numbers would be even higher if not for Marc Gasol’s absence due to injury.
Spain’s form leading into their matchup against Australia has seen what began as a slow start, level out to show the Spaniards to be the powerhouse nation everyone felt they were prior to the Group play.
Olympic Results – Spain
- Croatia 70-72 Loss
- Brazil 65-66 Loss
- Nigeria 96-87 Win
- Lithuania 109-59 Win
- Argentina 92-73 Win
- France 67-92 Win
- USA 76-82 Loss
Australia had been in sterling form leading into the semifinals, crushing all foes – bar Team USA- by an average of 22 points before their capitulation at the hands of Serbia.
If Spain wants the blueprint for how to beat the Boomers, they need only watch Australia’s semi-final clash with Serbia. Serbia completely pushed Australia out of their offensive systems and left them in a state of disarray, unable to find a basket.
It’s likely we see the Spanish defence mimic Serbia’s recent play, especially in regards to double teaming Patty Mills on his cuts, crowding Andrew Bogut at the top of the key preventing him from making entry passes, and daring Joe Ingles to shoot from outside. Australia will need to find the answer for this as it proved to be their kryptonite.
As for the Boomers, they can trust their defensive intensity to wear down the Spanish, who are an ageing basketball power with the average age of 32 years old. If Australia plays full-court pressing and trapping defence, and makes hard cuts and is in constant movement on offence, they could force Spain’s stars to the bench and open up a full court game which Spain would prefer to avoid.
The key big men in this battle – Andrew Bogut and Pau Gasol – both come into the game under an injury cloud, with Bogut obviously hampered by his knee recently and Pau barely recovering from his calf strain. The ‘big’ that can overcome their niggles best and impose themselves upon the game the most will have a big say on who wins.
For Australia to win this game, they must quickly shrug off their loss to Serbia and build a scouting report on Spain which is equal to the scouting report Serbia developed for Australia. They must also find the offensive spark that drove their fairytale ride to the top four. Their woeful 14 points first half to Serbia is not indicative of the class of the Australian team.
Whilst it is unlikely Australia will shoot, or execute, anywhere near as poorly as they did against Serbia, anything below their absolute best will not get them the win. They will need to assert themselves from siren to siren, rotate players regularly to keep up the pressure, and refuse to be denied their medal.
The Boomers will go into the match as the underdogs, which will take the pressure of expectations off of them and allow them to operate with a level of mental freedom which they were unable to against Serbia.
It is the underdog mindset which might make the Boomers dangerous to Spain, who are also emotionally drained at the moment, especially if things get close or if the Spanish underestimates them.
The team which is able to put their semi-final disappointments behind them fastest is likely the team we see victorious today.
Luc Longley, now the Boomers assistant coach, competed in the 1988 and 2000 Olympics when Australia achieved its highest finish ever (fourth).
He said Australia had no choice but to get over their “s****y loss” to Serbia because they’ve still got a chance to win Australia’s first Olympic medal and do something no other men’s team has done in this country before.
“We don’t want to let the loss damage us so badly that we don’t have another crack at it against Spain,” he said.
The question after such a debilitating loss is this – how strongly do they believe now?
On paper, Spain has the advantage in experience and by virtue of having a multiple NBA All-Star in Pau Gasol, but their form has been chequered. They’ve been getting little out of their talented playmaker Ricky Rubio and Pau Gasol’s play has been up-and-down.
The Boomers, on the other hand, were a picture of consistency right up until the semi-final. Their lull in play is most likely an aberration rather than a trend one can expect to continue.
Patty Mills leads the Australians in scoring at 19.8 points per game, third highest average in the tournament.