Written by Kane Pitman.
Patty Mills came up with the game clinching play, stealing an inbound pass with 4.4 seconds left, robbing France of the chance for a potential game winning shot attempt and Mitch Creek was subsequently fouled with just 0.9 seconds left. He made the first, before missing the second and third attempts and time expired. Australia had moved to 5-0.
The Buzzer sounded and the Boomers embraced, but this game was won with more than one play, it was a back and forth struggle of titanic proportions. Each offence took turns landing blow after blow in a futile attempt to put their opposition away for good.
When Rudy Gobert threw down a thunderous dunk to give France a 70-61 lead with 3:20 left in the third quarter, the Boomers appeared to be losing their grip on the game, seemingly an empty possession or two away from defeat.
A Joe Ingles three went down, Mills then dropped one of his own on the next possession and Australia had stunningly weathered the storm. They went into the fourth trailing 75-71, but with the momentum ever so slightly tilting in their direction.
“I think there was a few pleasing things tonight, the first is the fact that we got down by nine in the third quarter, things were going against us and it would have been an easy time to let things slip, but true to the Boomers spirit we were able to regather ourselves, knuckle down defensively, and execute some nice offensive sets to get the rhythm going again,” head coach, Andrej Lemanis said postgame.
Perhaps no Australian displayed the above mentioned Boomer spirit more than Aron Baynes, who’s influence on both ends of the floor in a wild fourth quarter is truly hard to put into words.
With Australia trailing 79-78 with just over seven minutes left in the game, Frank Ntilikina barrelled into a stationary Baynes, committing the offensive foul and turning the ball over.
Then, Mills would miss a three and Amath M’Baye would streak to the basket looking to score, only to run into the brick wall named Baynes, who once again drew the charge.
The Boomers would subsequently score on their next two possessions, first on a Baynes hook shot, before Ingles drove and finished a lay-up, which of course was assisted by that man, Baynes.
All this would occur in just 76 seconds of play.
“What goes through my mind is just don’t move, take a hit. [I’m] just trying to make the right play for our guards,” Baynes responded when asked about taking those critical charges.
“They are busting their ass as best as they can to make it tough on their guards, they are pressuring full court, they are chasing over [the screens], they are doing as much as they can so I have to step up and try and put my body on the line as well. When we sacrifice for each other like that it’s a great thing for us."
Baynes would pour in 21 points on 5-for-6 shooting from beyond the arc on the night, while Patty Mills 13 third quarter points would highlight a 30-point display. Ingles added 23 points, while Creek was influential on the defensive end to go along with his eight points and three rebounds.
Andrew Bogut filled the box score as usual, with seven points, five rebounds and three assists, before fouling out of the game with 3:39 left, and Matthew Dellavedova dished out a team high nine assists.
“The biggest thing is we locked down and played defence, we kept them to two offensive rebounds for the game, it’s something we’ve been talking about and getting better at through the course of the tournament,” Lemanis explained about the Boomers fourth quarter comeback.
The Boomers have been challenged in every contest, but one gets the feeling those tough, challenging, pressure packed situations are what brings the best out of this group. For Baynes, there's no place he'd rather be.
"There’s no other group of guys I’d rather be out there going to war with than these bunch of mates."
In winning against France, the Boomers ensured they finished on top of Group L, which places them on the opposite side of the draw to Team USA and Serbia, two of the FIBA World Cup heavyweights.
Australia will now play an impressive Czech Republic team, led by Chicago Bulls guard, Tomas Satoransky.
“It’s important that we bring the same intent mentally for the next game, it’s the quarter final of a World Cup, if we can’t get up mentally for that we don’t deserve to win but I’m confident that we will [be up for it],” Lemanis said.
Australia v Czech Republic is on Wednesday night – Tip-off is at 11:00pm (AEST). Watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo.