With the Boomers place in the round of 16 already assured, Coach Andrej Lemanis rested his star players as Angola came from behind thanks to an outstanding individual second half performance by Yanick Moreira to prevail 91-83. Needing to win in their fight for fourth place, Angola's Moreira scored 34 points in the second half to overpower Australia's little used bench players to earn a 8 point victory.
Finishing first or third in Group D would mean avoiding the vaunted Team USA until the semi finals. With the loss, Australia's placing in Group D comes down to the final game where Lithuania take on Slovenia. Should Lithuania win, they will top the group and Australia will finish second. If Slovenia win, Australia will finish in third place and avoid the USA until the medal round. Losing to Angola ultimately increased Australia's chances of finishing third - a much more desirable outcome than second.
It was obvious from the start that the Boomers were going to run with their bench, with Brad Newley and Nathan Jawai inserted into the stating lineup in place of Joe Ingles and Aron Baynes. Angola opened by making consecutive 3-pointers and hit their first 5/7 shots on their way to a 12-8 lead after 4 minutes. As the first quarter played out, Lemanis systematically injected his bench into the game, with Dante Exum, Adam Gibson and Chris Goulding all playing good minutes alongside Brock Motum and Cameron Bairstow. Linking well, the Boomers second unit moved past Angola thanks to Exum who scored 7 first quarter points, with some highlight plays including a Gibson to Goulding dunk.
When Jawai made a thunderous dunk early in the second quarter, and soon after followed by Goulding beat the shot-clock with a triple, Australia had opened up an 11 point buffer. While Exum did most of the scoring in the first quarter, it was all Goulding in the second who was enjoying being set free by Lemanis. The former Melbourne Tiger was outstanding with 9 points all from beyond the arc for the period. When Adam Gibson connected on a triple of his own to beat the half-time buzzer, the Boomers went into the main break leading 42-29.
Not only did Australia's second unit take control of the game, but they continued the hot shooting from beyond the arc. They hit 6/9 from long-range at a 67% clip. Australia's bench outscored Angola's 32-4.
Exum looked more confident, splitting a double-team and on the next play finding Bairstow for the score. Bairstow not long after hit an open look from the top of the key in promising signs for Australia. However Angola then went on a mini run that saw them close to within 5 on a transition dunk by Yanick Moreira forcing Lemanis to call a timeout. Motum immediately responded for the Boomers, knocking down a big three from well beyond the arc to halt the run. Soon after he backed it up with another, and when Goulding joined in with another of his own, Australia were back up by 15 points.
For Angola Moreira stepped up and put on a clinic, almost singlehandedly keeping his country in touch. He piled on a staggering 22 points for the quarter as Angola outscored Australia 34-23 for the term, closing to within 2 points at the final change (65-63).
Motum made a nice no-look pass to Goulding who hit the triple which saw Australia back ahead by 5 points with 7 minutes to play. The Boomers then forced a shot clock violation by Angola and the momentum looked like it was about to swing. However Angola would not go away and continued to push the Boomers who still had their starters on the bench.
When Moreira hit a mid-range jumper with 4:40 left, Angola took the lead for the first time 77-76. Awho ustralia immediately responded thanks to Exum found Jawai for the alley-oop, regaining the lead albeit briefly. Angola continued their aggressive play, attacking the Boomers on every possession. The Boomer's deficiencies on defense were being exposed, as Angola opened up a 5 point lead forcing Lemanis to use a timeout.
Choosing to stick with his second unit, Australia would get no closer than 4 points down the stretch. Turnovers late in the game hurt and Angola were quick to take advantage. Moreira extended Angola's lead to 7 before Exum responded with a three to close the margin to within 4 points with just over 1 minute remaining. The Boomers would get no closer as Angola closed out the game to win 91-83, with Moreira capping off a brilliant individual performance with a put-back to finish with 38 points (17/24 FG) and 15 rebounds.Despite the loss, there were a number of positives to come out of the game for the Boomers, including big minutes for little used players to date. Goulding embraced the opportunity in outstanding fashion, pouring in a team-high 22 points that included 5/10 on 3-pointers. He received great support from Motum who had 13 points in going 3/5 on triples, while Exum showed glimpses of his talent with 12 points and 6 rebounds in a tournament high 31 minutes. Continuing to improve was also Jawai who also played 30 minutes, providing 10 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists, while Bairstow with 11 points and Gibson with 9 also played more than 20 minutes each. Australia's red-hot 3-point shooting continued, going a combined 14/25 at 56%.
Defensively, Australia gave up 21 offensive rebounds but also allowed Angola to shoot 57% from the field. However with Lemanis playing his bench and resting his key players, it was a chance for the bench to obtain some significant playing time with the result bearing no meaning for the Boomers. While some fans may consider the Australian tactics in playing the bench as 'tanking', one could argue it was playing safe and ensuring key players such as Ingles, Baynes and Dellavedova avoided injury and were well rested and primed for the first knock-out game coming up this weekend.
With the Angolan win as Australia's stars sat on the bench, the result would draw attention with accusations of fixing. However results like this have been common in major world events past, in this case Slovenia fing themselves in a must-win game against Lithuania to seal top spot rather than a dead rubber. Slovenian NBA star Goran Dragic was not impressed with Australia's effort against Angola, venting his frustrations on Twitter.
Basketball is a beautiful sport, there is no room for fixing the game like today Australia vs Angola!! @FIBA should do something about that!
— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) September 4, 2014
Coach Lemanis after the game sharing his thoughts with the media on how the Boomers went.
“That game proves that everyone at the World Cup is a good basketball team…and Angola is a good team with lots of international experience,” Lemanis said.
“We shoot the ball pretty well (51% FG and 56% 3FG), our offense wasn’t too bad, but in defensive transition we were found lacking tonight.
“Certainly we got outrebounded and we had 18 turnovers, and that’s frustrating for how we want to play as a group.
“Obviously we rested some players tonight, knowing that we were going to go to Barcelona (for the knockout rounds), but still that second half performance was disappointing.”
Lemanis has a well-rest starting line-up ahead of their Round of 16 contest as they move to Barcelona. They will be looking to quieten their distractors with a do-or-die win.
Lithuania managed to come from behind in an amazing game against Slovenia to prevail 67-64. The result means that Lithuania top Group D, with Slovenia relegated to second place and Australia in third - thus ensuring any potential game against Team USA could be avoided until the semi finals for both Lithuania and Australia.
Australia will now meet Turkey in the first knock-out game of the round of 16. Turkey will be a stern test for the Boomers who at least will enter the game with fresh legs and valuable game time for the bench.