Written by Oliver Kay
Friday night was a perfect illustration of sporting heartbreak, but there is little time to dwell on what could have been, as a new task lies ahead. The Boomers need to direct the pain of Friday night’s loss and channel it towards achieving the goal of bringing home an elusive medal.
“We’ve still got another chance to win our first medal and this is going to be a great opportunity to see how the group responds to a little bit of adversity,” said Nick Kay.
“We have a lot of guys in this locker room that have been through this a lot, we are going to come out this next game and fight and do everything that we can to make sure that we come home with that medal.”
The Boomers should go into the bronze medal game with a high degree of confidence. In Friday’s game against Spain, not one member of the Boomers squad had tasted success against the Spaniards in a major tournament. In contrast, all twelve Australian players know that they can beat France, after all, they did just that only six days ago.
In one of the games of the FIBA World Cup, Australia showed their trademark fighting spirit to outlast a high-powered France offence, 100-98. The Boomers took a series of punches throughout the game, absorbing them all to land the knockout blow as Patty Mills came up with a crucial steal and Mitch Creek iced the game at the free-throw line.
Defence was a huge factor in that win, and the Boomers will need a similar effort to beat them again on Sunday night.
Despite Evan Fournier finishing the game with 31 points, the Boomers defensive scheme and the lockdown heroics of Joe Ingles, slowed him down in the fourth quarter, restricting the French guard to just four points.
Aron Baynes, in particular, was a force of nature. His willingness to put his body in the firing line was game-changing. Drawing three charges in the fourth period alone, Baynes influence on the final result was immense.
“What goes through my mind is just don’t move, take a hit. Just trying to make the right play for our guys, 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,” Baynes said after the game when asked about taking those critical charges.
Although Gobert’s defensive presence was felt on multiple occasions, Australia did an admirable job of limiting his scoring impact, holding him to eight points on just four shot attempts - his second-lowest scoring performance of the World Cup.
Nando De Colo has shown himself to be a dangerous offensive weapon at the FIBA World Cup, having his best game of the tournament against the Boomers, dropping 26 points off 68.8 percent shooting.
De Colo’s speed seemed to catch Australia by surprise. He was able to get easy penetration on a number of occasions thanks to some slow defensive reaction from the Boomers. Australia can’t afford for De Colo to get the jump on them again., with transition defence set to be a point of focus.
Closely related to transitions defence is turnovers. Turnovers have been a persistent issue for Australia, but up until the game against Spain it hadn’t cost them victory. However, it came worryingly close to costing them in the first meeting against France.
The Boomers turned the ball over 14 times (a hair under their 14.6 average), but France made them feel the sting of every single one. Over the course of the game, France scored 26 points off turnovers, to Australia’s three points. That works out to 1.85 points conceded every time the Boomers turned possession over.
Against a French team that will be hungry for revenge, this has to be tidied up. France is too good to be given extra possessions to inflict damage.
Lastly, Australia needs their scoring stars to fire again. In their previous encounter, Patty Mills and Joe Ingles were lethal. With Aron Baynes providing some invaluable backup, the Boomers offence looked the best it had all tournament. Australia will need that same triple threat. Mills has been consistently brilliant, the question is, who else will step up? After a quiet, and somewhat tentative game against Spain, look for Ingles to come out with a point to prove.
With Australia on the brink of history, it is now just a case of putting plans into action. For Andrej Lemanis, he knows his troops have what it takes.
“I have good confidence that this group will be able to well and truly refocus and get our energy back, recover the right way, handle it in the normal professional manner which they do and come out with a bit of fire in the belly on Sunday to win a medal.”
The Bronze medal game against France tips off at 6:00pm (AEST) - Watch live on Fox Sports and Kayo.