Andrew Bogut didn’t pull any punches. Naturally, reporters flocked to the captain of Team Australia prior to their matchup with the United States on August 10. He said of the Americans: “If you put a million dollars on it, you probably get a dollar back if you bet on them.” At the same time, Bogut insisted that the underdogs wouldn’t be taking the game lightly or acting too friendly toward the team of All-Stars. After all, the squad from Down Under boasts an entire starting lineup of NBA players and won their first two Olympic contests handily.
The result was a game in which Australia led by five at halftime and made things very uncomfortable before Team USA triumphed 98-88. Carmelo Anthony may have saved the day, but the postgame jitters were apparent for an American team that had won 70 straight games. Draymond Green reflected: “I think it also gave us kind of a feel of what a medal-round game would be like.” If this was a preview of the gold medal game, what are the chances that Australia could come out on top in the rematch?
Some NBA executives weren’t surprised at how close the game turned out to be. Not only is there chemistry among the Australian players, the talent is undeniable. Patrick Mills and Matthew Dellavedova were big-time college guards at St. Mary’s who have found success at the highest level. Dellavedova is now a Buck after rising to fame in Cleveland, while Mills remains with the Spurs. Bogut is an experienced center who won a title in Golden State before leaving for Dallas in the offseason. Meanwhile, fellow big Aron Baynes played well enough in San Antonio to ink a three-year deal with Detroit back in July. Even forward Joe Ingles has carved out a role for himself in Utah over the last two seasons.
With recent draftees like Thon Maker, Ben Simmons, and Dante Exum in the pipeline but not playing in Rio, Australia should remain among the best teams in the world. Even many of the lesser-known Aussies on the current roster got experience playing at the NCAA level. Forward Brock Motum once called Klay Thompson a teammate at Washington State. Guard Kevin Lisch was actually born in the States and had a nice career for the Billikens of St. Louis University. Ryan Broekhoff (Valparaiso), Cameron Bairstow (New Mexico), and Damian Martin (Loyola Marymount) are other team members who honed their skills on American soil.
Against China, Australia deployed its bench heavily and still triumphed by 25 with Bairstow scoring 17.
How has head coach Andrej Lemanis accomplished such success so far? He has encouraged hard-nosed play, which sparked Paul George to comment on their “knack for being a little dirty.” Bogut has set some questionable screens, but he has also made excellent passes and acted as a decoy to free up Mills, who exploded for 30 points against Team USA. The point guard was able to exploit the shorter FIBA three-point line and stun the Americans early on. Already in his third Olympics, Mills declared, “I feel I am the leader of the team.”
Lots of movement away from the ball puzzled USA defenders and led to breakdowns such as an uncontested dunk by Bogut in the final minute of the first half.
While Team USA looked out of sorts, the Australians deserve some credit. Mills played like Australia’s version of Anthony. That became even more evident when he forced a foul on Thompson late in the game that seemed motivated more by desperation than anything else.
Dellavedova also kept things humming along, passing out 11 assists and not forcing the issue from deep, despite his good range. Bogut has seen his NBA career decline from his Milwaukee days, but he was a force in making 7 of 9 shots and ending the game with a trifecta of blocks. Bogut was rested due to soreness in the subsequent contest against China but should remain an offensive focal point.
Against the Americans, 6’11” David Andersen was the best of the non-NBA division with 13 points in just 18 minutes of action.
Can the Americans adjust if the two sides meet again? Given their plethora of talent, surely Team USA would still be favored in that scenario. It would help if their big men could stay on the court.
DeMarcus Cousins was playing well coming into their matchup, but he was plagued by foul trouble and played just 10 minutes. DeAndre Jordan picked up four fouls as well, and the Americans seemed to lack offensive flow at times. If you take out Anthony’s superlative shooting (9-15 on threes alone), the team shot just 34.8% from the field. Kyrie Irving, who ironically was born in Australia before moving to New Jersey at the age of 2, also proved to be a key contributor. One would expect Kevin Durant to perform better than his woeful 4-16 performance in the Australia game, but defensive improvements are needed too. At least the favorites only committed 9 turnovers on the evening.
Team USA must be feeling somewhat vulnerable after beating France 100-97 and earlier surviving a potential game-tying three in the final seconds against Serbia. To put things in perspective, Australia defeated Serbia 95-80 and France by a score of 87-66. Like Australia, the Serbians used a pass-heavy offensive scheme.
Team USA finished group play at 5-0 and claim the top seed, but Paul George was blunt after the Serbia game: “We’re relying on our natural talent so much. It’s so easy to guard us.” On NBC Sports, Doug Collins suggested that having a weak exhibition schedule and easy opponents for the first two group games caused the Americans to coast early on rather than polishing their half-court plays.
Mike Krzyzewski will be studying plenty of tape as the tournament goes on, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the Australia game is of particular importance.
Australia may not possess the same firepower as Team USA, but they have proven to be a cohesive unit thus far. Assistant coach and former Chicago Bull Luc Longley addressed criticism of the team’s physicality by saying, “Tell ‘em that’s international basketball.”
Indeed, the 4-1 Australians possess a swagger that has earned them the second seed in the tournament. After dismantling the likes of France, they are among the favorites to end up in the Olympic final. If Australia does face the Americans with gold on the line, Captain Carmelo and the gang will at least know what to expect.
photo via llananba