The Australian Boomers commenced their 2014 FIBA World Cup campaign in Klaipeda, Lithuania, against Finland. After a long trip and little time to shake the jet-lag, the Boomers used their experience down the stretch to come from behind to record a 100-95 victory.
Starting the game with 4 current NBA players and a 2014 Euroleague Champion on court in Exum, Dellavedova, Bairstow, Baynes and Ingles, Australia opened strongly to take a 5-0 lead. However Finland were able to take command to open up a 27-18 advantage at the first break. With a new lineup, the Boomers were clearly lacking chemistry despite playing with intent.
The second quarter was much like the first, with the Boomers still looking to gel together as a team while their Finnish opponents were far more efficient offensively. Australia were having difficulty closing out on the perimeter defensively and they were made to pay on the scoreboard as Finland's shooters filled it up.
However late in the quarter the Boomers were sparked by Bairstow defensively, enabling them to ignite their transition game. The Chicago Bull was money from mid-range and was quickly followed by a Gibson triple. Soon after Exum capped a Bairstow steal with a breakaway dunk that clearly had the momentum swinging Australia's way. When Ingles completed a 3-point play, the Boomers had closed to within 1 point, eventually heading into the halftime break only trailing by 3 points (44-47).
The third quarter opened with Finland scoring a couple of quick baskets before the Boomers began scrapping defensively. Forcing some turnovers and bad shots, the Boomers managed to tie the game up at 56-all on a Dellavedova jumper in transition. Ingles was shouldering the scoring load early in the third with his aggressive forays into the paint. Motum who continued to impress, stepped up to take over from Ingles where he left off. However defensively the Boomers were unable to close out on Finland's accurate shooters, struggling to successfully defend the pick and pop. Finland made Australia pay for giving them open looks from the outside, opening up a 82-72 lead heading into the last period.
While Finland opened the last quarter strongly, back-to-back triples by Andersen and Newley sparked a Boomers run. Baynes came up big with two important tip-ins and then the Boomers looked set to take the lead on a wide open Exum breakaway dunk. However Exum inexplicably missed and appeared to roll his ankle and headed to the bench.
Two plays later, it was two Bairstow free throws that saw the Boomers finally re-take the lead 91-90 with just 3:30 to go. An Ingles triple then followed but was quickly answered by Antero Lehto who was simply outstanding for Finland all night.
Ingles' experience shone through in the end as he connected on a second straight three-pointer to put the Boomers ahead 97-93 with only 28 remaining. On the next possession he pulled in the defensive rebound and was fouled, making both to extend the Boomers lead to 6 and from their were able to hold on to win.
Leading the way for the Boomers were the experienced pair of Ingles (20 points) and Newley (15 points), while two of the newest Boomers in Bairstow and Motum (17 points) were just as important. Coach Lemanis would be happy with the first outing and the win, however he has plenty to work on ahead of the World Cup. It is clear that the Boomers need to work on their chemistry and cohesion offensively, but also do a better job of defending the pick and pop.
Lemanis will also be keen to ensure the fitness of Exum who appeared to injure his ankle, but also that of Chris Goulding who did not suit up for the game. After more than 6 months out without having played a competitive game, Jawai was clearly still searching for fitness and form. There is still a long way to go ahead of the World Cup, and plenty more opportunities to iron out the wrinkles with 8 more games in the preparation to go.
Box Score To Come (unavailable at time of publishing)
Australian Boomers Pre-World Cup Schedule
Airbnb Australian Boomers v Lithuania Tuesday, 12 August @ Klaipeda, Lithuania 2:00am AEST Live Online Streaming Live Stats (TBA)
Airbnb Australian Boomers v Finland Wednesday 13 August @ Helsinki, Finland 2:00am AEST
Airbnb Australian Boomers v Ukraine Saturday 16 August @ Nice, France 2:00am TV: LIVE on ESPN2
Airbnb Australian Boomers v Philippines Sunday 17 August @ Nice, France 2:00am TV: LIVE on ESPN2
Airbnb Australian Boomers v France Monday 18 August @ Nice, France 4:30am TV: LIVE on ESPN2
Airbnb Australian Boomers v Finland Saturday 23 August @ Strasbourg, France 4:30am
Airbnb Australian Boomers v France Monday 25 August @ Strasbourg, France 3:00am TV: LIVE on ESPN2
Australia opens the 2014 FIBA World Cup with a game against Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain on August 31 at 1:30am AEST live on ABC2 or online on FIBA's livebasketball.tv.