The Boomers have almost had the dream start to their Olympic campaign with big wins over France and Serbia, and a too-close-for-comfort slug out against the Americans which has made believers out of critics. But with the pool stage reaching its final two rounds, what is next for the Australian team that dares to dream?
Next up they face a winless China on Saturday morning, who fell into today’s match to Venezuela 72-68. The Chinese are unlikely to have much luck against the fast-starting Aussies, and will look to “muddy” the game up with their trademark “physicality” (yes we mean dirty play – the real type, Paul George!). The Boomers are expected to rest some of their key players for much of the match, with Andrew Bogut, Matthew Dellavedova and Patty Mills showing some signs of fatigue late in the USA game.
China should be an easy win, but the Boomers may call upon their big three more than they’d like if something strange starts happening. The Chinese have size inside and a rangey pick-and-pop guy in Yi Jilian, but it shouldn’t be enough to stop the Boomers’ steamroll from clearing up their Tiananmen Square.
The Boomers should be able to consolidate second place in the pool with a win against Venezuela on Monday. Of course, anything can happen, and the Venezuelan’s drew their first quarter against the USA, but it is hard to imagine any other outcome against a team that struggled to put China away today.
The Venezuelans will have nothing to lose in the game, and will get a free swing at a tournament favourite. The Boomers must remain vigilant and not count their chickens despite their early play. The 1988 Boomers still have nightmares from their loss to Angola and slipping in either of these last two games could prove catastrophic.
They could lose either, but it is highly doubtful. The most likely scenario is that Australia puts them both to bed comfortably and is able to advance to the quarterfinals in the prized second place, which means avoiding a rematch with the USA until the Gold Medal Game – if either team makes it.
But this is where things get a little spicy. If we crossover in second place, as expected, we will face the third place winner of Group B – a group that contains Lithuania, Spain, Brazil, Argentina and Croatia. Each of these teams presents their own unique challenges, and it is near impossible to pick a team who the Boomers would prefer to face.
Spain has started poorly by their standards, losing close games to Brazil and Croatia, but is expected to make the top four. Would Australia really want to face them in a crossover given the experience they have in that situation? How about Australia’s arch nemesis Lithuania, who have stolen two of our three Bronze medal shots from us? And then there’s Brazil, whose crowd could potentially possess their team into overachieving.
It would be a hard pill to swallow if the Boomers were to start off this well only to be knocked out in the quarterfinals once more. And what the Boomers choose to do over their next two games will be crucial to how they play in the winnable but tough crossovers.
Australia could use the last two games as warm ups for the crossover; as a chance to try a few things out before the do-or-die pressure mounts. If Australia is able to mount an early lead, they could surely play with their rotations and look at getting some form into guys like Damian Martin, Chris Goulding and Brock Motum, whose names may or may not be called in crunch time.
For what it’s worth, based on their current form and their upcoming games, Australia’s crossover nemesis is likely to be Spain. Australia beat Spain in a closed door scrimmage early last week. Could Australia and Andrew Bogut disrupt Pau Gasol’s last hurrah?
The evidence so far suggests they can.