Biggest Boomers takeaways from FIBA Asia Cup triumph
Australia claimed their second straight FIBA Asia Cup title on Sunday night, and there was plenty to celebrate throughout the tournament.
With their gold medal performance in Indonesia, the Boomers continued their perfect record in FIBA Asia Cup competition. They won the 2017 edition of the tournament in their first event as part of the Asian federation, and they successfully defended that title with an undefeated campaign.
It wasn’t always easy, as the Boomers were seriously tested on multiple occasions. They trailed the host nation midway through the second term before storming home to win; they had to shoot their way out of trouble in a high-scoring quarter-final against Japan; they were pushed hard in the semi-final against New Zealand, with the Tall Blacks pulling to within five points in the dying minutes; and they had even more trouble shaking a resilient Lebanon in the final.
None of that should have been a surprise, despite Australia entering the tournament as heavy favourites. With a much younger squad than in 2017, some wobbles along the way were to be expected. That lack of experience made their response to adversity all the more impressive, as they answered every challenge asked of them to ultimately claim the title.
Despite a few close calls, the Boomers finished the tournament undefeated and as undisputed champions for the second time running. With an average winning margin of 15 points across six games, it was an impressive statement from the Boomers ahead of next year’s FIBA World Cup.
Even without Goorjian, defence reigns supreme
Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian is generally credited with instilling the stifling defence that has become Australia’s trademark in recent years. While he undoubtedly deserves that credit, this Asia Cup campaign proved that he doesn’t need to be present for the Boomers to thrive at that end of the floor. With Mike Kelly at the helm, the Boomers were once again a defensive force in Indonesia.
Playing the same style of swarming defence that was seen at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, the Boomers were clearly the most disruptive team in the tournament. They allowed just 67 points per game, they forced an average of 13 turnovers per outing, and they held their opposition below 40% shooting from the field and less than 33% from deep.
Those numbers were propped up somewhat by the weaker opposition in the group stage, and the Boomers certainly had more trouble from the quarter-finals onwards. They gave up more than 70 points in each of their last three games, but they were still able to get timely stops to build a match-winning buffer in every matchup. The final against Lebanon was a prime example; while they allowed 30 points in the final quarter, they held the the Cedars to just 43 points through the first three frames, and their 14-point lead at three-quarter time proved to (just barely) be enough.
On the defensive end of the floor, Mitch McCarron was the team’s unquestioned star. He led by example as captain, relentlessly harassing opposing ball handlers and earning a spot in the tournament’s All-Star Five in the process. His 1.8 steals per game ranked him sixth in the tournament, but they don’t tell the full story of his impact on the perimeter as he forced countless tough shots and sloppy passes.
The skipper certainly had plenty of support, with Australia’s young roster full of energy and a willingness to defend at all times. Their bigs were dominant around the basket, with the Boomers finishing as the cup’s most prolific shot blocking team by a wide margin, and their perimeter players were a constant threat in the passing lanes. Plenty of credit should go to Mike Kelly who, at his first major tournament as head coach, kept his team engaged and energised at all times.
In their last FIBA Asia Cup triumph in 2017, things came a little easier for the Boomers. They overpowered teams with their offence, leading the tournament in scoring while shooting over 50% from the field. That wasn’t the case this time around, as they ranked ninth in points per game and struggled to generate offence for stretches in every game. That made their defensive efforts all the more crucial, and it was their ability to get stops that proved to be the difference.
Thon is back
When Thon Maker’s return to the Boomers was announced ahead of June’s World Cup qualifying window, expectations were relatively low. After all, the former NBA big man had taken a three-year hiatus from the national team, last sighted during the infamous brawl against the Philippines. In the time in between, he flamed out of the NBA and struggled to make a major impact in Europe, before landing in the G League last season.
Still, there was a feeling of optimism as Maker pulled on the green and gold once again. After going from an elite NBA prospect to a basketball journeyman, the hope was that some time spent amidst the famous Boomers culture could be the hard reset his career needed.
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