Written by Kane Pitman.
Australia shook off a rough first half to pull away from the Czech Republic on Wednesday night, eventually winning 82-70, recording their sixth straight victory at the tournament.
Patty Mills once again led scoring for the Boomers, pouring in 24 points, though this time his second half heroics were swapped for a scintillating opening two quarters that kept the sluggish Australian’s in the game.
Heading into the half with a 33-30 edge, you certainly could have made the case that the game would have been just about over without the San Antonio Spurs guard’s constant flow of offence.
Mills went 6-for-9 for his 16 first half points, while the rest of the Australian team slumped to 8-for-30 from the field.
Compounding the struggles was the turnover curse once again rearing its ugly head, with Andrej Lemanis’ squad unable to take care of the ball, committing eight turnovers that resulted in 14 points for the opposition, just a fraction below 50 percent of their entire halftime score.
“The turnovers, it’s just one of those things. Nobody means to turn it over, I’m pretty sure we would lead the tournament in assists, if not we’d be damn close,” Lemanis said postgame.
“Every game we’ve got 20 assists, we share the ball. With the amount of ball movement we have, the player movement that we have, you are going to get some turnovers. It’s one of those things, you’d like to be better at it, but it might be a by-product of the way we play as well and you have to accept we are going to get some of them if we are going to get 25-plus assists and move the ball.”
The Czech Republic would quickly score the first four points of the third quarter, reclaiming the lead just prior to Mills picking up his third foul, leaving him teetering on the edge of disaster.
Desperately needing a spark, five quick points for Jock Landale, including two thunderous dunks would quickly swing the momentum back in the Boomers direction, before Andrew Bogut unleashed a clinical stretch of play to bust the game wide open.
Bogut would assist a Chris Goulding three, draw a charge, assist a Nick Kay lay-up, finish a Joe Ingles lob, and finally drop in a soft hook, all in the space of 1:57.
All of a sudden Australia held a commanding 57-43 lead with 1:46 left in the third period. A lead that would never seriously be in doubt the rest of the way.
The Czech Republic would close to within seven points in the final minute, before a Mills step back triple shut the door on any hope for a miracle comeback, with the hi-fives and hugs commencing on the Boomers bench.
“Czech Republic are a good basketball team and we have a lot of respect for the way they have played this tournament, they’ve been great.” Lemanis said.
“I thought with their switching defences caused us to be a little anxious early. It took us a while to find our rhythm offensively, but once we did, I thought we did a nice job of starting to penalise it and get the looks that we wanted.”
That anxiety clearly dissipated in the second half, as the Boomers dished out 13 assists to just three turnovers over the last two quarters.
Helping to boost those assists numbers was Goulding, who buried three triples in the vital third quarter to finish with 14 points. Bogut added 10 points, while Kay had four points and a team-high seven rebounds off the bench.
“We have to understand that guys like Delly and Patty and Joe are going to start on those big key players and we just have to be ready when our numbers called. Regardless of whether it’s ten seconds, a minute, end of the quarter, or you are playing the whole quarter because Delly gets in foul trouble like the game before, you just have to be ready,” Creek said of the second unit continuing to play a crucial role in the team’s success.
Next up for the Boomers will be Spain, a team that Australia will need no added motivation to face, with a place in the FIBA World Cup Final on the line.
“The thing is right now, the jobs not finished for us, we finished fourth at the Olympics and that was a terrible feeling so we’ve given ourselves an opportunity and we need to ensure we do everything we can to take advantage of this opportunity as we move into the semi-finals.”
Spain denied the Boomers their first medal in a major tournament at the 2016 Rio Olympics, with the devastation from that loss still in the minds of those that were there.
“I don’t think it needs to be brought up and spoken about specifically because everyone is aware of it. In many ways I think that hurt has driven the passion and the focus for this tournament and the commitment to it,” Lemanis said.
“One of the first things I heard when we walked back into the locker room was guys saying, ‘the jobs not done yet, jobs not done yet,’ so I think the focus is there, we just need to prepare for Spain as we prepare for everybody else.”
Australia v Spain is on Friday – Tip-off is at 6pm (AEST). You can watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo Sports.