Written by Kane Pitman.
The loss prevented the Boomers from claiming their first medal in a major tournament, but they still registered their best ever result at a FIBA World Cup. Head coach, Andrej Lemanis, was understandably emotional postgame, but couldn’t have been prouder of the way the group played during the tournament.
“Having a group of guys that are so committed, so passionate about playing for their country, they certainly don’t do it for the money, they commit their off-season’s because they want to represent Australia on the big stage and do something special.”
In stark contrast to the offensive extravaganza that ensued in their Group L matchup a week earlier, this game was won on the defensive end, as the wear and tear of a gruelling World Cup schedule appeared to have taken its toll.
Holding a 40-25 edge with 6:23 left in the third quarter, the Boomers were unable to hold on, with a tell-tale sign of fatigue coming in the form of their three-point shooting, where they finished just 4-for-17 (23.5 percent).
“We had some turnovers; I think perhaps a little fatigue on the back end of the tournament. I played a pretty short rotation, so I think once you get a little fatigue sometimes that leads to turnovers, a bit of lack of execution there and then France also made some shots that they needed to make,” Lemanis said postgame.
“They made some plays that gave them a bit of momentum and we weren’t able to stop it with some good solid defensive stops or clean offensive possessions and it got away from us a little bit. When you shoot 4-for-17 from the three-point line and you have 19 turnovers that’s again perhaps a sign of fatigue at our offence not being as crisp as it needed to be in critical moments. “
Both teams registered tournament-low point totals, with the 59 points for Lemanis’ squad falling well short of their previous low of 81 against Senegal.
The Boomers appeared to run out of steam in the fourth quarter, as they were outscored 25-13, their tenacious defence unable to slow down the French momentum.
“We play some guys and we missed open shots in crucial times and sometimes you prefer other guys on other teams to shoot the ball and to make plays and we did that, and those guys made shots so it’s a huge credit to them,” Mitch Creek said at the postgame press conference.
“At the end of the day, we have a game plan and we stick to it and we try and do our best to execute such game plan.”
Joe Ingles led the Boomers with 17 points, five rebounds and three assists, while Patty Mills added 15 points, including seven in the fourth quarter.
Mills is expected to be a contender for the tournament MVP award, after taking his World Cup point total to 182, falling one point shy of Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Suffering from cramp late in the semi-final against Spain, Matthew Dellavedova was at his tenacious best defensively during the first half, drawing multiple charges and clearly getting under the skin of the French team with his trademark physical play.
Dellavedova would draw two offensive fouls on Evan Fournier during the first half and play a vital role in holding the French star to just 16 points on 5-for-17 shooting, well down on the 31 points he put on Australia last week.
Lemanis moved Andrew Bogut and Nick Kay into the starting line-up for the bronze medal game, making his first change to the starting group of the tournament. Bogut’s inclusion could well have been a tactic to once again stifle the influence of Rudy Gobert, a move that paid dividends for the Boomers.
Gobert finished with just two points for the night, giving him a total of ten in the two games against Australia. Bogut chipped in with five points and six rebounds, while Kay added nine points and five rebounds.
Other contributors included Aron Baynes with five points and four boards, while Jock Landale tallied four points and three boards.
While speaking to the media postgame, Creek had a message for the Australian fans that have supported the squad throughout the campaign.
“[To those in Australia] watching live, watching replays, watching highlights, watching Instagram, twitter, Facebook, everyone that has supported us, everyone that has backed us in, the texts, the calls, it means the absolute world to us. We gave it absolutely everything that we had.
From a national team perspective, the Boomers attention will now turn to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, a tournament that Australia qualified for by virtue of progressing further than New Zealand at the World Cup.
“This team is going to be a really powerful team at the Olympic games and we haven’t forgotten about the previous Olympics, the fourth place there, we are certainly, certainly, not going to forget about this World Cup campaign so there is a lot we can take out of it and build upon. The exciting thing is we have a short turnaround to a huge campaign in the Olympics upcoming,” Creek said.
The Boomers are scheduled to fly back to Australia from China on Monday.