Written for nbl.com.au by Liam Santamaria
Moments after the Boomers pulled off their historic victory over the USA on Saturday, Andrew Bogut looked his teammates in the eye and addressed them.
That was a massive win, he told them, and we made history today, but we can go one of two directions from here: let’s stay focused on the ultimate goal.
It’s a message each of the Boomers would echo during their postgame media commitments.
Of course, it makes sense for the Boomers to keep a lid on what went down. They have bigger fish to fry in China.
But for the rest of us, a first-ever victory over the United States by our senior men’s national team is a result worth shouting from the rooftops.
And to have done it in front of 52,000 people – the biggest crowd ever for a game of hoops in this country – was absolutely monumental.
What made yesterday’s victory even more special was the fact that the Boomers had gone down to Team USA less than 48 hours earlier. This was a courageous bounce-back win and a result that has sent shockwaves across the globe.
The quality of Aussie hoops – and, let’s be honest, the shakiness of this American squad – are the basketball talking points currently reverberating around the planet leading into the World Cup.
So, how did the Boomers pull it off? These were the five keys to victory.
If you don’t sincerely believe you can beat Team USA, you won’t beat them. It’s that simple.
Belief is the first hurdle to clear when taking on the most powerful hoops nation on the planet and, the truth is, very few of their opponents possess it.
In fact, most national teams lose their match-up with the USA during the warm-ups because, in their heart-of-hearts, they don’t honestly believe they can win.
But these Boomers aren’t built that way.
“This group genuinely has that belief,” Bogut commented postgame.
“A lot of that comes with confidence and playing together and some of it comes with having guys on this squad that are playing with those Team USA guys on a nightly basis.
“And not just warming a bench but playing against them.”
The Boomers were sincere in their belief and that gave them a fighter’s chance.
INGLES AS PLAYMAKER
In Australia’s game one loss to the States, ‘Slow-Mo Joe’ didn’t see enough of the rock.
The crafty NBA forward spent most of Thursday’s game moving without the ball and spacing in the corner, finishing with just six points (off six shots) and only one assist.
That’s just not a recipe for success for this squad.
Ingles is a world-class playmaker and the team’s most effective player at snaking off pick-and-rolls and making reads. The Boomers have to give him touches early in the offence (and early in the game) and not getting him more involved in game one was a big mistake.
To his credit, head coach Andrej Lemanis admitted as much following yesterday’s win, revealing the team made a concerted effort to get Ingles more involved.
“As a coaching staff we didn’t do a nice job of getting [Joe] touches and looks in that first game and we certainly wanted to change that coming in tonight,” he said.
“He’s a quality player with the ball who makes good decisions and we need to ensure that we’re using all the pieces that we have at our disposal to get the best out of the group.”
The adjustment was for Matthew Dellavedova to spend less time on the ball and give Ingles plenty of possessions in a point-forward role.
The strategy worked a treat and the lefty’s five first-quarter dimes were a big reason why the Boomers hung tough throughout the game’s first ten minutes.
Ingles finished with 15 points and a game-high 7 assists and with him pulling the strings on offence, the Boomers were able to keep the scoreboard ticking over most of the game.
What can you say about Patty Mills’ performance down the stretch?
Mills was all kind of clutch during the game’s final minutes as the little maestro scored basket after basket to lead the Boomers home.
His teammate, David Barlow, described the performance perfectly.
“Just brilliance,” Barlow said.
“Absolute brilliance. It looked like a nightmare to defend.”
Mills scored nine of his game-high 30 points during a blistering couple of crunch-time minutes, quickly turning a one-point game into a six-point Boomers lead.
To put it simply, Patty lit the joint up.
“The new Fantastic Four movie is coming out and [Patty] is the Human Torch. He has the lead role,” Mitch Creek quipped after the game.
“Patty is just Patty. You don’t have to say anything else – he is Patty Mills.”
Lemanis has copped a lot of criticism over recent times but the Boomers head coach prepared his squad superbly for yesterday’s clash and then played his role excellently during the game.
Following Thursday’s loss, Lemanis instructed his team not to “throw the baby out with the bath water.” Their systems were sound, he told them, and all they needed to do was tweak a few things and do what they do better.
The adjustments they did make were tremendous.
The Boomers were more disruptive defensively, they closed out possessions on the defensive glass, they looked after the ball and, by playing off Ingles pick and rolls and Bogut high-post catches, they got a lot more flow, movement and creativity into their offence.
“The biggest thing about us that I like is that we make great adjustments from game to game,” Bogut said.
“We really have guys that buy into watching film and taking feedback, both positive and negative, to make sure that we don’t make those same mistakes the next game.
“Sometimes it even happens from time-out to time-out and quarter to quarter and that’s a pretty special group.”
The Boomers’ defensive rebounding, in particular, was outstanding. After giving up 16 offensive boards on Thursday, the Aussies allowed just 6 offensive rebounds (off 38 missed shots) in the rematch.
Defensively, Lemanis had his squad crawl into the ball and be more active in the passing lanes. Their increased pressure put the Americans on their heels, took them out of their offensive rhythm and even created some extra possessions.
What was also key was Australia’s strategy of mixing up their D.
When the Boomers jumped into a 1-2-2 press off their first set of free throws, the early change-up paid immediate dividends and the tactic worked well throughout the afternoon.
Another element of Lemanis’ coaching that was on-point yesterday was his use of time-outs. The experienced coach was right on the money with his momentum-stopping huddles, snapping a number of them throughout the game in just the right moments.
The thing is, Lemanis wasn’t only effective with when he did call time-outs. He was also on point with the moments when he didn’t.
The first of those came early in the third when a Kemba Walker and-one put the USA up six. Lemanis held his nerve in that moment and cleverly allowed Walker’s trip to the stripe to take some air out of the game. The Boomers punished Team USA’s pressure on the following possession, cashed in with a Jock Landale dunk and temporarily stopped the bleeding.
Two more of those situations took place during the final term when Australia started to tighten up at the offensive end.
When Joe Harris splashed a corner three in transition with 6:45 to play, the US had quickly flipped a six-point deficit into a two-point lead and the momentum was theirs. Most coaches would’ve spent their second-last time-out in that moment but Lemanis held his nerve. A catch-and-splash three-ball from Mills helped steady the ship and the experienced coach used the injection of Bogut and Ingles as his tool to re-gain control.
He was faced with another of these dilemmas not long later though, when the Boomers had strung together a series of empty possessions. The thing was: their defence was standing up and Lemanis was confident his veteran squad would find their way.
He was right and a big-balls triple from Ingles helped break the ice.
COURAGE UNDER FIRE
The most important stretch of the ball game wasn’t the clutch play of Patty Mills in crunch-time.
No, Australia’s gut-check moment came midway through the third quarter.
The USA went into halftime leading by a single point but five minutes later, after a Boomers turnover led to a Jason Tatum dunk, the US were suddenly up by double-figures and the game looked to be getting out of hand.
It won’t be remembered, but this was the moment that ultimately defined yesterday’s historic win.
The feeling in the stadium during that time-out was that we’d seen this movie before. After all, the tale of the Boomers getting blown away by the US in the third quarter is a familiar one and we’d watched the latest version of that story just two nights earlier.
But the script for this game went in a different direction, thanks largely to a savvy in-game adjustment from Lemanis and his staff.
“There was a strategic change,” Barlow stated postgame.
“The coaching staff and the playing group did a brilliant job of making an adjustment there. In that moment, where you thought it could’ve slipped away, we changed things. There was a meeting about that and it was a brilliant little adjustment.”
What changed was Australia’s impact at the defensive end, sparked by some excellent play from Perth Wildcats forward Nick Kay.
Lemanis loves to throw some full-court pressure at teams from time-to-time and when he does, he uses his power forward as the head of that snake. Landale is still getting used to playing that role but with Kay in the game, the Boomers decided to extend their D in an effort to wrestle back the momentum.
It worked and the change-up threw the USA completely off their game.
One possession with just over three minutes left in the term perfectly illustrated its impact, with Kay denying Donovan Mitchell in the backcourt and then sliding his feet to force Jaylen Brown into a sloppy turnover, right in front of a frustrated Gregg Popovich.
Patty fed off that energy to get going down the other end and the Boomers rallied, reeling off a 14-5 run to storm back into the game.
From being down ten midway through the period, the Boomers went into three-quarter time in the lead.
“We managed to pull together (in that moment),” Lemanis reflected.
“The chemistry was good, we stuck with it, we got in the trenches, started to play some defence and got it going from that end of the floor. That‘s how you build belief and that was really pleasing.”
Kay’s role in that press is to keep the ball away from the primary ball-handler and, if does get it, double him on the catch. The idea is to force someone else to advance the ball and throw the offence out of whack by continuing to deny the ball-handler into the front court.
That scheme was really effective during those crucial few minutes and when Popovich told media postgame that his team “looked discombobulated at times,” he was almost certainly thinking about that stretch of the game.
All in all, the Boomers did exactly what you need to do to beat Team USA.
They executed a smart game plan, made some savvy in-game adjustments and kept the thing close. From there, when the game was on the line, they found their primary scoring threat and rode his flaming hot hand to victory.
It really was a thing of basketball beauty. A famous victory.
Now it’s time to go get that gold.