Australia has Aron Baynes to thank for getting them over the line in a rusty performance against the PAC-12 All Stars in game 1 of the Farewell Series in Melbourne.
The Detroit Piston finished with 28 points and 9 rebounds as the Boomers took the victory 92-83, in front of a subdued Hisense Arena crowd. Baynes' size was far too much for the young American team to handle, as he bullied his way around the low post.
A talking point from the game was the injury to Lokomotiv Kuban's Euroleague star Ryan Broekhoff in the 2nd quarter. Broekhoff appeared to go over on his ankle before hobbling to the bench, and with his ankle heavily iced, did not return to the game.
Head Coach Andrej Lemanis was asked about Broekhoff after the game and said, "I don't think it's serious, I'm not sure if he will play on Thursday."
Chris Goulding (ankle) and Andrew Bogut (knee) both missed the game due to injury. Goulding however is likely to take part in Game 2 of the series on Thursday.
To the disappointment of the Victorian crowd, newly crowned NBA Champion Matthew Dellavedova also did not play. It's understood that he was unable to play as his NBA insurance did not clear in time.
Australia started the game with Patty Mills, Aron Baynes, Joe Ingles, and surprisingly Kevin Lisch and Brock Motum. Baynes made his presence felt immediately, showing off his strength early in the contest. The Boomers also looked to play trap defense following a score, something which featured heavily in the Green & Gold scrimmage on Saturday.
The PAC-12 showed early that they had come to play, jumping out to a 20-13 lead midway through the first quarter. A quick run from the Boomers meant that the gap was only four points heading into the first break.
Australia maintained their up-tempo, full court, trapping and pressing defense, however it was not as effective as hoped. The PAC-12 All-Stars navigated it with relative ease, and in the process managed to earn themselves some cheap transition baskets. Although their defense may not have been performing as well as Lemanis would have wanted it to, Australia's offense showed glimpses of brilliance.
Numerous possessions in the second quarter ended with an open shot after a well run offensive set. Following this, the Boomers then hit the lead thanks to a huge and-1 slam from Aron Baynes.
The highlights kept coming when Patty Mills hit running mate Joe Ingles with a flashy no-look pass on the fast break. The play ended with Ingles making the basket and heading to the line for a bonus shot.
Chance Comanche of the PAC-12 All-Stars then made a terrible mistake, he tangled up with Baynes, something which the Aussie took exception to. The next two plays down the court Baynes called for the ball in the low post and powered his way to the bucket for two consecutive scores. It was not long after this that Broekhoff went down and made his way to the bench. Before the incident he had been playing well, recording 5 points, 4 rebounds, and 4 assists in just 10 minutes of play.
A pair of Mills triples meant that Australia took a slim 50-48 lead going into halftime. Through the first two quarters Baynes had compiled 16 points while Mills had chipped in with 12.
Arizona's Kadeem Allen was also impressive early, heading to the locker room with 12 first half points. The guard also took on the unenviable task of defending San Antonio Spur Mills.
"He's [Mills] quick, he gets his shot off very quick, and it was a challenge." Allen said after the game.
The 6,370 strong crowd had been quiet all night and then surprisingly reached their peak during the halftime break. This was through a rendition of Australia's unofficial national anthem, 'Horses' by Daryl Braithwaite.
When the game restarted it was clear Lemanis' halftime adjustments had been adhered to by his troops. After a pretty euro-step lay-up from Joe Ingles, the Boomers had jumped out to a 10 point lead. The Utah Jazz star had a relatively quiet game offensively, taking just 5 shots on his way to 7 points. However Ingles is a key part of the offensive and defensive setup, and his IQ on both ends of the court sometimes goes unnoticed.
Without much of a 'bang', the Boomers stretched their lead out to 15 points. A short run by the PAC-12 was halted after the Aussies drew a 24-second violation following a Lemanis timeout. From that point the game was essentially over, with the fourth quarter being played out fairly evenly.
Baynes was clearly the best player on the floor, while Patty Mills (15 points and 4 assists), Cameron Bairstow (9 points and 11 rebounds), and Dave Andersen (11 points and 7 rebounds) were all effective.
Despite some early struggles, Lemanis seemed happy with what he saw.
"It's exactly what we needed out of our first game together." Lemanis stated.
He highlighted the team's defensive struggles early and how his side did well to change that in the second half.
"Certainly defensively we had some issues in the first half, dealing with their speed and their ability to get to the rim," he added. "I thought the guys came out at the start of the third quarter and did a great job in making adjustments to that."
Lemanis also revealed that Aleks Maric, who did not make the final team for Rio, would travel with the Boomers to South America in the lead up to the Games.
The new Sydney Kings recruit is being taken in case Dallas Maverick Andrew Bogut does not recover from his knee injury in time for the Olympics. Maric played in Tuesday night's game, and will do the same in game 2 on Thursday night.
Despite the loss, PAC-12 All Star coach Mike Montgomery was satisfied with what he saw from his players.
"I was pleased generally speaking, a little disappointed at some points when I thought we backed off physically." Montgomery shared.
A final take from the game was Patty Mills' place in the offense. The Spurs star played plenty of the game off the ball, with the likes of Lisch and Damian Martin acting as primary ball-handlers. Lemanis believes this will be an effective tool heading into Rio.
"With him [Mills] and Delly playing significant minutes together, if one's got it, the other one goes to the two spot, and I think that versatility is good for us," explained Lemanis.
On the topic of playing with Dellavedova, Mills advised he was looking forward to it. "I really want to get out on the floor with him and see us work well together, in the past we have, so it should be good."
The final game of the Farewell Series is 7:30pm AEST on Thursday night in a return encounter at Hisense Arena in Melbourne. The Boomers will likely be closer to full strength with Dellavedova and Goulding expected to suit up. The Rollers will also be playing again in the earlier game starting from 5:45pm.
Australia 92 (Baynes 28p, 9r; Mills 15p, 4a) PAC-12 All-Stars 83 (Allen 15p; Pickens 10p)