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A step away from bronze: Boomers' second half struggles vs France results in 4th place
A medal on the world stage has once again slipped out of Australia's grasp, with the Boomers falling to France 59-67 in the bronze medal game at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.
After leading by as many as 15 points in the second half, Australia's turnover demons and inability to score consistently down the stretch saw the French prevail in a dour, defensive struggle.
Having earlier accounted for France 100-98 in an enthralling encounter for first place of Group L, Australia, the game was a direct opposite to the free-scoring encounter witnessed in the second round group stage.
While Patty Mills was again very good with 15 points, Joe Ingles broke out of his scoring funk to lead the Boomers with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. It was Ingles' second term that helped set up the big lead, only to see the French storm home in the second half, including some brilliant shooting from Nando De Colo (17 points) and Andrew Albicy (9 points) in the final term.
Andrew Bogut and Nick Kay were inserted into the starting lineup, and it was the latter who scored on a backdoor cut to get things going. A Patty Mills triple from the corner soon after had the Boomers leading by 5.
Matthew Dellavedova drew an offensive foul on Gobert, who then get hit for a technical for which Mills duly converted. Aron Baynes banked home a three-pointer to open his account.
The theme of offensive fouls continued against both teams in what proved to be a low scoring term. Australia's offense appeared to be more potent, highlighted by a beautiful feed from Ingles to Bogut that saw Australia take an 8 point lead late in the term. Yet a three-pointer to Nando de Colo to beat the quarter time siren saw the margin stand at 16-11 at the first break.
Ingles broke his scoring drought by making a three from the top of the key to open the scoring in the second term. However the period would become a battle of attrition, with the defenses of both teams holding firm.
Ingles thankfully was in a scoring mood, hitting a long two. When Rudy Gobert missed both free throws, Jock Landale put his post moves on display, getting Gobert off the ground before laying in an easy two for a an 8 point lead. While Fournier finally broke through for a triple at the other end, Ingles scored again on a layup to keep the momentum Australia's way.
A late shot by Ingles for his 12th points of the period, and with Bogut thwarting Gobert's attempt at the other end, the Australians took a 30-21 lead into half time.
While the Boomers' 14 points in the second quarter were their lowest for the tournament, they restricted France to a measly 10, which was also their lowest of the event. In fact the defence was so stingy by both teams in the opening half, both sides registered their lowest first-half scores of the World Cup.
For the Boomers, the interior duo of Bogut was having an influence at both ends of the floor, while Matthew Dellavedova was at his annoying best, getting into the heads of his French opponents.
The second half started exactly how the Boomers would have wanted, with Bogut forcing a turnover by Gobert, and then feeding Kay at the other end for the and-1. Ingles' scoring mindset continued, taking Gobert to the rack for the and-1, with the Boomers opening up a 15 point margin - the largest lead of the game.
Mitch Creek missed both free throws at one end, then chased down the break for the massive rejection at the other end to make amends. But the momentum was shifting France's way.
The crisp ball movement disappeared and the Boomers' scoring dried up, while Mills sat on the bench. With Australia's turnovers also starting to mount, the French managed to string together some easy scores to embark on a 14-4 run to close to within just 2 points. Dellavedova broke the run, but faced with the final possession, the Boomers could not even get a shot off as the offence remained out of sync, yet still somehow managed to cling to a 46-42 lead at the final break.
France continued their run to open the fourth, with De Colo reeling off 8 straight points to steal the lead. Kay scored inside on an easy basket, and when Mills was found open at the elbow, the Boomers locked up the scores at 50.
With Mills back on court and firing, the Boomers offence looked more ominous. While Albicy hitting triples at one end, Mills was making moves at the other.
Both teams traded baskets as the lead changed multiple times, an exciting finish was yet again on the cards. When Gobert scored his first basket of the game with 2:05 remaining, France managed to edge ahead by 4.
Mills committed an unforced turnover, the Boomers' 17th of the game, and then soon after an 18th was given up by Bogut. Albicy then made Australia pay dearly for their errant ways by hitting a dagger from the corner, his third triple of the term, to push the margin out to 7 with under a minute to play. Nicolas Batum extended the margin to 8 when he made 1 of 2 from the free throw line not long after.
A late triple by Mills maintained the Boomers' hope of a miraculous comeback, but De Colo scored immediately in return on a set play, with France able to hold on to win the bronze medal 67-59.
Australia's lack of scoring beyond Mills and Ingles was a key reason behind their undoing, with only 9 points coming from the Boomers bench compared to France's 38. After averaging more than 20 assists per game entering the bronze medal contest, Australia could come up with just 13 helpers, and when coupled with 19 turnovers (to 13), the free-flowing offence the Boomers have become renowned for, all but disappeared in the second half.
The Opals broke through for a first ever medal on the international stage at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, and since that initial breakthrough, have gone onto medal at all but two majors (2010 World Cup and 2016 Olympics), delivering Australia a first ever senior World Championship in Brazil back in 2006. The Boomers' wait to join their female counterparts is set to continue.
It was an impressive run by the Boomers in China, winning their first 6 games of the tournament and emerging from the 'Group of Death' and progressing through to the knockout stages with an unbeaten record. Their scalps included Canada, Senegal, Lithuania, France and the Czech Republic, before losing a heart breaking semi-final to world number two Spain in double overtime, leading into their bronze medal game against France. They will take cold comfort from the fact that their fourth placing is the best by the Boomers at any World Cup, while they have done so at the Olympics three times.
The Boomers were admirably led by a host of NBA stars including tournament MVP candidate Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles and Matthew Dellavedova. Jock Landale emerged on the international stage, as did Nick Kay.
Sitting in the wings looking to return to the national team are a host of outstanding talents, including NBA superstar Ben Simmons, sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff, and explosive point guard Dante Exum.
The Boomers, who have already qualified for Tokyo 2020, will now have to regroup if they are to again challenge for a first ever program medal. They were close to securing a first ever medal at any major event at the 2016 Rio Olympics, going down to Spain in the bronze medal playoff in controversial circumstances. The heartbreak of Rio has been simmering, and the FIBA 2019 World Cup was the first opportunity for the Boomers to make amends. That hurt and disappointment in the aftermath of this loss, is only set to be further exacerbated.
Full box score on FIBA website.