WE know what WE think of them. But how do other people feel?
Love them to death – would walk through fire or get up at 3am to watch them play.
But what if we flipped the perspective?
For the Australia v USA match, we sought out the insights of… the enemy. In this case an American in the form of Harrison Faigen, Associate Editor in Chief of SB Nation’s Silver Screen and Roll. What were his thoughts on our boys coming out of the Thursday morning thriller?
The United States was widely expected to coast through Group A, with France presenting the biggest potential problem for the Americans.
However, a 2-0 start by Australia, with quality wins over France and Serbia, forced the question: could the Boomers pose a real threat to Team USA?
On Wednesday, the answer to that question was very much yes, until it wasn’t. Australian head coach Andrej Lemanis was reportedly planning to hide some things in case the two sides played in the gold medal game, but the side certainly didn’t appear to be playing possum in a hard-fought 98-88 loss to the United States that was closer than the final score indicated.
Australia has five NBA players in their starting lineup, and they have the continuity to make things interesting against the U.S.
Heading into their matchup, it was their somewhat suspect bench that was supposed to be their biggest issue.
Lemanis dealt with this issue rather expertly on Wednesday – instead of going with bench heavy lineups instead of their starters, Lemanis kept at least one or two of his starters on the floor at all times.
This staggered rotation allowed Australia to get some much needed rest for their heavily used starters, without surrendering a huge advantage.
Australia’s bench players impressed as well. Cameron Bairstow made a few nice plays in the second quarter and Victorian David Andersen’s NBA experience showed in his fearlessness in the face of Team USA.
Andersen’s 13 points from 5/6 shooting was huge in allowing the Australians to survive the minutes when Andrew Bogut was rested.
His fearlessness was emblematic of a team that refused to back down against a far more heralded United States crew, but the Australians’ lack of fear didn’t ever turn into foolhardiness.
This is a team that knew their strengths and weaknesses intimately and did an excellent job of using proper spacing to get back on defence after misses and fouls.
They kept the U.S. from capitalizing on their massive advantage in athleticism and quickness on the break and this limited the United States’ opportunity to run.
That has been where they’ve destroyed all of their opponents so far, but not today as it allowed Australia to take a 54-49 lead at the half.
The real problem against the U.S. might have ended up being the Australian starters in the end. Aron Baynes and Andrew Bogut can’t play together for long stretches unless they want to risk obliteration at the hands of Carmelo Anthony and the rest of the United States’ legion of three-point shooters – who outscored the Boomers by 30 from behind the arc, including 9/15 from Melo.
Baynes and Bogut (or as I like to call them, Ground BnB) are both best at centre and while their sheer size is an advantage against nearly every other team at the Olympics, the United States has enough talented wings to tilt the advantage towards small-ball.
This was glaring in the opening minutes of the game, when Anthony knocked in his first three three-pointers while Baynes hung back, unable to get out on Melo for fear of getting blown by.
This issue didn’t matter as Australia built their lead in the first half by shooting 68 per cent from the field and grabbing offensive rebounds using their size on more than a few of their rare misses, but it mattered in the second half when their shooting cooled. Anthony shot four-of-five from behind the arc in the fourth quarter as he and Kyrie Irving helped the U.S. pull away.
Irving was good for the U.S. for most of the game, but the reason the team needed a heroic effort from him and Anthony in the fourth quarter is because Australia’s well-planned half-court defence (in addition to a few uncharacteristic misses from Kevin Durant, who was shooting 78.9 per cent heading into the game) held most of the United States’ wings in check.
In addition to keeping the U.S. out of transition, Australia’s guards and wings showed incredible fight in getting over screens while their bigs stepped up just enough to make the U.S. wings hesitate on their decision to shoot or attempt a drive to the basket.
Matthew Dellavedova was especially impressive on that end, even when in isolation against players ranging from Durant to Irving.
The new Milwaukee Bucks’ guard also continued to flash offensive potential he hasn’t gotten to showcase much in the NBA. Dellavedova is leading the Olympics in assists – with 11.3 per game – and has an incredible assist-to-turnover ratio of 6.8, even after coughing up the rock four times against the U.S.
He isn’t the only Victorian on the Australian team who’s mostly known in the U.S. for defence that’s gotten to showcase his offensive value.
Bogut has been a monster on both ends for Australia, and has really demonstrated how the Golden State Warriors may miss him more than expected.
Bogut is not only playing his typically excellent defence, but he’s also 11th in the entire tournament in assists (first among centers) at 4.7 per game as part of an excellent ball movement effort by the entire Australian team.
It’s a shame Bogut likely won’t be around, or at least not this good, by the next Olympics because it would’ve been fascinating to see him with the incoming young for Australia.
Even Mills, a backup guard for the San Antonio Spurs who doesn’t get nearly as many opportunities in the NBA, has continued to be a firecracker internationally. The diminutive guard has scored larger than his size, leading the Olympics in scoring with 25.7 points per game after dropping 30 on the Americans.
Mills is just a strong all around scorer, using his speed to get to the basket or pulling up for Sam Cassell-dance worthy threes in transition.
Combine those three with willing defenders like Joe Ingles and Ryan Broekhoff, and you have a recipe to make things interesting against the U.S.
So again, if the question is whether or not Australia can threaten the United States, the answer is yes.
They just don’t look like they have quite enough to beat them, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of from that outcome today.
On Thursday, that looked like plenty to get them a silver medal, the Aussie men’s first in basketball.
Add to that Ben Simmons, Thon Maker and Dante Exum still coming down the pipeline and it could be the first of many medals for this group.
As Spain fades, the search for the United States’ next international rival begins anew.