Written by Megan Hustwaite.
THE Australian Boomers opened their Tokyo 2020 Olympic campaign with a gritty but promising victory over Nigeria, 84-67, on Sunday night.
The Pool B contest began with a scrappy, yet entertaining, first half before the Boomers fine-tuned their performance led by a game-high 25 points from captain Patty Mills.
Joe Ingles, who scored 11 points, said while it was pleasing to register a first-up win, Australia needed to handle the ball better after giving up 24 turnovers. Nigeria coughed it up 22 times.
“There’s a lot of things we can improve on and fix up, we’ll go watch the film, recover and get ready for the next one,’’ Ingles said.
“We need to be better with the ball but have to give a lot of credit to Nigeria and the way they play. That’s their style – they’re up and in, they’re athletic, they get up the floor and they’ve got a great coach.
“I think people underestimate the team they are, they’re a really good basketball team.”
Nigeria scored the first four points of the game before an Ingles triple opened Australia’s account, Mills then Aron Baynes helped the Boomers go on a 7-0 run to establish an early advantage.
Josh Okogie broke the drought for Nigeria and minutes later would put them ahead.
Two trademark Mills threes gave the Boomers some momentum as they got out to a seven point lead. Coach Brian Goorjian was busy with his subs using 10 players in the opening term, Matisse Thybulle and Dante Exum providing early highlights on Olympic debut.
Great Boomers defence pushed Nigeria out of its sets but the Tigers rallied to hit the lead before Doup Reath’s first points for his country levelled scores on the eve of quarter time.
Nigeria continued the second term where it left off in the first with a triple, shooting at 46 per cent before Ingles tied things up. The Tigers went on a mini run and scoring dried up for the Boomers before Matthew Dellavedova cut the margin to one. Nick Kay was then rewarded making it five unanswered Australian points.
The sides exchanged baskets down the stretch as Mills uncharacteristically missed his first free throw – he made 71 of 78 for the Spurs last NBA season – then made the second to tie scores inside the final five minutes.
Jock Landale’s first points and another Ingles triple saw the Boomers lock it up then take the lead. Exum’s drive and dunk a highlight for the Victorian product who has consistently battled injuries during his career.
Australia began the second half with a boom, tripling its lead in the opening 50 seconds. While Australia got out to a game high buffer, it was strong team defence which stood out and piled the pressure on a Nigerian line-up which couldn’t penetrate from the three-point line and shot poorly from the charity stripe.
Back-to-back Nigerian buckets got the margin back to six as Josh Green checked in for the first time, all 12 Boomers hitting the court in the tournament opener.
With under four minutes to go, Exum went down clutching his ankle but was back on his feet to make both free throws. A shot clock issue saw the game delayed briefly before Nigeria got within four with under two minutes remaining but Exum made them pay knocking down an open three from the corner, the Aussies heading into the final break, 58-52.
The Boomers came out firing in the fourth with Mills and Thybulle getting busy as the Boomers built a double figure-lead on the way to notching an important first win.
Australia’s next assignment is Italy on Wednesday night at 6.20pm AEST.
Australia 84 (Mills 25 points, Ingles 11, Exum 11) defeated Nigeria 67 (Achiuwa 10 points, Nwora 10)
The Last Word
with Shane Heal, 4x Olympian (1992, 1996, 2000, 2004) and former captain
“It wasn’t a pretty opening game for the Boomers but it was still a comprehensive victory against a talented Nigerian line-up. Led by Patty Mills, the team will only get better through the pool games and on the way to potentially the Boomers first ever Olympic medal.”