Written by Oliver Kay
The winner of Group H will be decided on Thursday night when 2-0 Australia square up against 2-0 Lithuania. Both teams have already booked their tickets for the second round, but results do carry over from Group H, meaning a lot will be at stake in Dongguan.
Defeating Lithuania will require the Boomers to be firing on all cylinders. While they managed to get the job done in their first two games, Andrej Lemanis has acknowledged there are some areas that will require further attention to detail against an extremely talented Lithuania squad.
An issue for the Boomers in the World Cup has been their proclivity for turnovers. Ball movement and motion is the key to Australia’s offence, but a persistent lack of precision, particularly early in games, has often slammed the brakes on their offensive momentum.
“We gave up 13 offensive rebounds and we had 16 turnovers, so I think the offence got a little clunky there at times, particularly in the first half we just settled for middle pick and roll as opposed to some movement,” Lemanis said after the Senegal game.
Currently, the Boomers are averaging 14 turnovers per game, ranking them ninth-worst in ball security out of the 32 participating teams. On the flip side, Lithuania is one of the best teams at looking after the ball, averaging 10 per game, good for third best in the FIBA World Cup thus far.
Against Senegal and Canada, the Boomers’ propensity for turnovers ultimately didn’t cost them the game, but against the incredibly well-drilled and motivated Lithuanian outfit, it could.
Lithuania’s on-ball defence is built to pressure the ball handler and force turnovers, a style that gave both Senegal and Canada major headaches. To counteract this, the Boomers will need to be switched on from the opening tip to avoid another turnover-induced slow start.
Against Senegal, the Boomers struggled to limit the impact of their opponents on the offensive glass. The Senegalese blitzed the boards, overwhelming Australia with size and numbers. In Lithuania, we see a more traditional approach to rebounding, but one just as potent.
“Lithuania don’t quite do it the same,” Andrej Lemanis said after the Senegal game.
“They are a little more traditional and their defensive transition rules are a little bit more traditional, but they are a talented team with two really big and strong frontcourt players.”
Jonas Valanciunas of the Memphis Grizzlies (9.5 rebounds per game) and Indiana Pacer, Domantas Sabonis (7.5), form the two pillars of the Lithuanian frontcourt, and will present a daunting challenge for the Boomers on the glass.
Australia are ranked seventeenth in total rebounds, with 36.5 per game and only seven of those offensive. Lithuania on the other hand clock in at third, with 45 rebounds per game, 15 of those coming on the offensive end. It is a worrying disparity.
Against Lithuania the Boomers will need their bigs to step up. Jock Landale, in particular, will play a critical role as the likely starter next to Aron Baynes, with Andrew Bogut coming off the bench.
With that trio rotating through the frontcourt Australia have the size and strength to combat Lithuania on the boards. However, it will be a case of boxing out and establishing early position to thwart the opposition’s impact down low.
The Boomers have been consistently excellent from the three-point line this World Cup, and it’s no surprise with Joe Ingles and Chris Goulding on the roster. As a team they have been shooting 40% from long range. For a side jacking up 25 threes per game that’s some impressive accuracy.
Goulding has been the Boomers top sniper, shooting 67% from six attempts. Ingles has also been in world-class form, nailing 50% of his 12 shots.
Lithuania have some great shooters on their roster but as a unit they haven’t been as lethal as Australia, shooting 30.8%.
Not only does Australia’s hot shooting form potentially give them a scoring edge, it will also open the floor for Australia to operate more freely. With the likely threat of a three-point barrage, Lithuania will have to cover much more of the court to limit the Boomers.
Australia also has a great interior game to complement their strength from beyond the arc, so if Australia can take care of the ball and cash in on their white-hot shooting form, they are more than capable of outgunning Lithuania.
Passing and Ball Movement.
Australia and Lithuania matchup evenly in a few areas, but the area of similarity that is sure to make the game a must-watch game is the ability of each team to move the ball. Both teams have great team chemistry and a history of playing together, and it shows in how they play. Each side knows how each moving part connects to make the whole.
The statistics reflect this as well. Australia and Lithuania are ranked second and third respectively in assists per game, and fourth and third in points per game.
Joe Ingles has fully embraced his role as point-forward and leads the entire tournament for assists with nine per game. And although there were some hiccups early in the Senegal game, Matthew Dellavedova has been terrific at finding the open man.
“We’ve just got a good bunch of guys that have bought into the same thing and that’s why it’s fun to play, we have 28 assists or whatever we have tonight compared to 25 last night, it’s a fun team to be around,” Ingles said at the podium after the game against Senegal.
Having two teams skilled in ball movement going head-to-head is a recipe for excitement, but also of danger if the Boomers can’t tidy up their rebounding and turnover woes.
Lithuania will be Australia’s biggest test so far in the World Cup, but the same could easily be said in reverse. Whatever the result, sparks are sure to fly in one of the FIBA World Cup’s early marquee matchups.
Tip-off is at 9:30pm (AEST) - Watch live on Fox Sports or stream on Kayo.