Lucas Walker was a surprise inclusion in a new-look Australian Boomers team that began their four-game Sino-Australia series against a young Chinese team in Perth. 45 minutes after tip-off, it was Walker’s athleticism and tenacity that had helped catapult the Boomers to an improbable 97-95 overtime victory.
Making his international debut, the 28-year-old Tasmanian scored 11 of his 17 points in the fourth quarter, to go along with important rebounds and defensive deflections. He inspired his Australian teammates to fight back from an 11-point third quarter deficit and ensure the Boomers take a 1-0 lead in the 4-game series.
It took everything in the Boomers arsenal to get the job done, especially after two of their starters, veteran dual Olympian Mark Worthington and young point guard Hugh Greenwood fouled out in the fourth quarter after being on the receiving end of some dubious officiating. Down the stretch, Walker was ably assisted by another Boomers debutant, NBA hopeful Brock Motum (15 points), whose aggressive mindset in looking to score helped the Boomers cut into the fourth quarter margin.
Down by 6 with less than a minute remaining in regulation, an Australian victory seemed unlikely. Yet after Ben Madgen calmly knocked down a pair of pressure free-throws, the game was suddenly within striking distance. A forced turnover by the Boomers led to a spectacular reverse lay-up from Walker that cut the margin down to just 2 – the closest the Boomers had been to China since the opening score of the game. China’s early composure and clinical execution evaporated under pressure, failing to run an effective offensive set with Walker coming up with a crucial defensive rebound with just 15 seconds remaining. The Boomers charged down the court and Rhys Martin found Motum who converted a reverse lay-up of his own that sent the game into overtime.
The dysfunctional and emotionless play by the Boomers earlier in the game had been replaced with an Aussie spirit and passion that never says die.
In the overtime period, the Boomers were able to maintain their momentum, with their extended defensive pressure forcing the shell-shocked Chinese into an 8-second back court violation for failing to advance the ball over half court. For all of Walker and Motum’s fourth quarter aggressiveness, it was the poise and experience of Madgen that closed out the game in the overtime period, hitting six of his 15 points in the extra period, including perfect clutch free-throw shooting.
Having struggled to contain China’s scoring in the first half, and with only center Luke Nevill (16 points) effective offensively, Andrej Lemanis’ men upped the defensive intensity after the halftime break and slowly they chipped away at the visitor’s lead. The Boomers managed to restrict China to under 20 points in both the third and fourth quarters while at the other end they slowly chipped away at the margin. One thing the Boomers were able to do was consistently alter the flow of the game each time they extended their defence into a press, opening up some easy looks at the offensive end of the floor.
Speaking with the press after the game, Lemanis commented about the change in intensity;
“Yeah, obviously we did a good job being disruptive in the second half with our defence. First half we gave up 47 points at 64%, some of it was based on poor defence, some of it we felt they were just making some shots so, you know, it’s one of those things. The game is always played over 40 minutes you’ve got to believe in what you’re doing and the guys did a great job of that.”
“I guess it’s a style of play, defensively we’ve always been an aggressive nation. It’s one of the things that we pride ourselves on. To be able to sustain that for an extended length of time you’ve got to sub, you know, people have got to come in fresh and continue to carry the load and contribute to the team, again, that wears you down over 40 minutes.”
“It’s our first game together, we’ll go back and watch the tape and there will be a lot of learning that comes from that and hopefully we’ll be a bit better on Saturday, that’s what it’s about, getting better every day.”
Game 2 in the Sino-Australia Challenge will also be played in Perth on Saturday night. ABC2 will once again be broadcasting the game nationwide at 8.30pm AEST. The series will then move to China for the final two games.
Australian Boomers 97 (Walker 17, Nevill 16, Madgen 15, Motum 15)
Team China 95 (Ziao-Yu 19, Peng 19, Quan 16)