Written by Oliver Kay
‘Physical’ is not a new label for the Boomers. Being met with toughness is just par for the course when you face Australia, however, the current version is reminding the world they are much more than a team with a penchant for setting hard screens.
Australia’s combination of old-school physicality with new school perimeter offence is producing impressive results.
Australia’s reputation goes back a long way, but perhaps the game that most famously displayed the team’s spirit was the 1996 USA vs Australia exhibition game. In a game most celebrated for the fiery interaction between Shane Heal and Charles Barkley, the match also showcased how Australia’s now-signature physical style could ruffle the feathers of even the most experienced international squads.
Despite losing the contest, the 1996 Boomers team visibly rattled the star-studded American team with their rugged approach. After an incident where Reggie Miller was called for a defensive foul after running into Scott Fischer, one American commentator put it best: “[The] USA are getting very frustrated because when these guys set a screen, they really set a screen.”
No player has carried this tradition of hard-nosed basketball at this World Cup more than Aron Baynes. The hulking centre with the bushy beard has played like a man possessed. His willingness to use his body as a weapon within the rules of the game has been inspiring for his teammates and fans.
In the thrilling game against France on Monday night, Baynes made three clutch defensive plays, taking three charges square in the chest, handing the momentum back to his team. For Baynes, putting his body on the line is just a natural instinct when playing on a team where every member is willing to take some bumps for the greater good.
“[My teammates] 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. There’s no other group of guys I’d rather be out there going to war with than these bunch of mates,” he said after the 100-98 victory over France.
Those mates have fully embraced the same mentality. Matthew Dellavedova has been defending with trademark tenacity, Andrew Bogut is exhibiting his honed interior presence, Mitch Creek’s defensive desperation and awareness is first class, Nick Kay is doing the dirty work with gusto, and Joe Ingles’ length and defensive IQ gives another layer to Australia’s gritty approach.
All the moving parts blend together to become the latest iteration of the tried and true Boomers style.
While playing hardnosed basketball remains a bedrock philosophy of the Australian’s, the wide-ranging skillsets available have never been greater, combining a fusion of styles from past Boomers teams that is reflecting the trajectory of the modern game.
Patty Mills is leading the way, lighting opponents up with his speed and basketball artistry. Mills is currently third in the tournament for scoring, putting up 21.8 points per game. However, it’s not just the number itself that is impressive, it’s how he is going about his work.
As the team’s leading scorer and go-to player, Mills is putting up these numbers with the best players in the world breathing down his neck. Three-pointers, midrange, acrobatic finishes in the paont - he’s doing it all, and making it look easy.
Game after game, Mills has lifted the Boomers out of valleys and carried them to the peak, rising to the occasion with each opposition challenge.
"He’s grown into an unbelievably skilled and talented player who has played in lots of big moments… we trust in him and he trusts in himself,” Lemanis said after Mills' 23-point night against Lithuania.
Lemanis’ statement could easily be applied to every player on the Boomers roster.
From Ingles’ cunning versatility to Dellavedova’s slick orchestration of the motion-driven offence, Australia is proving they can hang with the big boys in a battle of skill.
Kay and Goulding are also playing key roles off the bench, only enhancing the growing reputation of the NBL as one of the world’s strongest domestic competitions.
Boomers v Czech Republic tips off at 11:00pm (AEST) - Watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports.