Australia's hopes of playing off for a gold medal at the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China have been crushed in a heartbreaking 88-95 double-overtime loss to Spain.
With hopes of erasing the disappointment of losing to Spain in the playoff for bronze at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio in controversial circumstances, Australians were in the box seat to do just that, before a late game surge by Spain helped them force overtime, and then running away in the second extra period as the Boomers scoring all dried up.
Paced yet again by Patty Mills who delivered a game-high 34 points, Spain rode a mighty performance from Marc Gasol who poured in 33 points with 6 rebounds and 4 assists. Australia will rue missed opportunities and turnovers, giving up 22 turnovers for the game.
Spain scored the first 5 points of the game, but Joe Ingles took it upon himself to put Australia on the board on a tough drive. Both teams struggled to find the bottom of the basket with any consistency throughout the term. But when Chis Goulding came off the bench to hit a three-pointer with first touch a three-pointer made to keep the Boomers within 2. A Matthew Dellavedova triple on the next possession saw Australia take its first lead of the game.
Sergio Llul hit a deep three on the buzzer to put Spain ahead 22-21 at the end of the first, taking advantage on the offensive glass with 6 second chance points, and 4 turnovers by the Aussies giving the Spanish extra scoring opportunities.
Spain were getting open looks at the start of the second, but could not find a way to hit the bottom of the net. With Mills finding avenues to the basket, Jock Landale hitting from downtown, and Mitch Creek following up with a put-back basket, the Boomers opened up an 8 point lead and with all the momentum.
Things tightened up again for both teams, with Spain switching to a 3-2 zone. Nick Kay scored inside and Mills hit a corner three, helping ensure the Boomers held a 37-32 lead at half time.
Australia's dominance in the paint was highlighted by a 20-10 scoring advantage, while the bench also provided 15 points compared to Spain's 7. Both teams were misfiring from beyond the arc, with Australia making a slightly better 31% (5-16) to Spain's 24% (4-17). Mills led all scorers with 11 points at the main break, while Juancho Hernangomez was looking potent from the perimeter with 8 points for Spain.
Mills hit a triple to get the scoring going after the break, and after a scoreless first half, Aron Baynes hit a triple with his first shot. Both teams were racking up the turnovers. Australia was able to edge the margin to as many as 11, when a Goulding drive and dish found Kay open for the layup.
Yet as you would expect, Spain fought back and extended their pressure to full court. They slowly edged their way back to get to within 5 points. A big blocked shot by Baynes on Rubio, slamming the ball into the backboard, caught the ire of Rubio who was charged with a technical inside the final 20 seconds of the term. Mills made the free throw, but then turned it over on the inbound pass. Rubio hit back with a bucket to close out the term, as the Boomers clung onto a 4 point lead at the final change.
The scoring was drying up for both teams in what was a tense battle. Back-to-back buckets inside by Bogut and then Kay opened up the margin by 8 points and wrestled control back to the Boomers.
Kay was in the right place and right time on multiple occasions, collecting his 16th points on the game on a put-back for his 8th rebound of the game. But the Spaniards threw everything at the Boomers to close to within 2 points with 3:44 to play and force Australia into a timeout.
Ingles drew an offensive foul on Marc Gasol, with Mills drawing a foul shooting the three-ball at the other end, duly hitting all of them to put the margin at 5. Australia however were finding it difficult to score, emphasized when Kay missed the layup when Gasol challenged his shot. The Boomers had multiple chances to extend the margin to more than 1, before a turnover by Mills gave the Spanish a glimmer of hope with 28 seconds to play. A great defensive stop by the Boomers was undone by a tough rebounding foul call against Bogut then sent Gasol to the line. He made both, to put Spain up by 1 point, the first time they had led in the second half, with just 8 seconds to play.
On the inbound play, the ball found its way into Mills' hands. He drove hard and drew a foul. He coolly sank the first, and with scores tied, the second bumbled out. A mid-court heave from Rubio almost banked in. But it was Australia's inability to find easy baskets down the stretch allowing the Spanish to force overtime.
On the very first play, Mills drew an offensive foul, but Spain scored the first 5 points of extra time. Then Mills returned fire, and when Kay scored inside off an offensive rebound, the scores were locked once more.
Australia enjoyed multiple offensive rebounds in the final minute. With 16.8 seconds to play, Australia had possession, and Mills was fouled again. This time, he made no mistake and put the Boomers ahead by 2 with 14.2 seconds left. Spain called timeout, and drew up a play. The ball ended with Gasol inside who was fouled by Dellavedova, and calmly made both. A potential game-winner by Dellavedova at the buzzer missed, resulting in a second overtime.
Bogut tipped in a Mills missed layup to put Australia up by 2. Yet scoring remained a problem for the Boomers, with Spain capitalising on their drought to go on a 10-0 run and take an 8 point lead and within reach of the final.
Baynes drained a big three to close the margin to 5, but Rubio sank two from the charity stripe on the next possession. Turnovers then killed off Australia's chances of a rearguard action, with the Spanish closing out the game to register a thrilling 95-88 victory.
The loss was a devastating blow to the Boomers, who played the better basketball across the first three quarters, before their scoring dried up late in the game.
While Mills was once again the standout, Nick Kay delivered one of the performances of his career. Often in the right place at the right time, Kay contributed a 16 point and 11 rebound double-double. Andrew Bogut was also prominent too, adding 12 points on 6 of 8 shooting alongside 9 rebounds.
Australia will rue their lack of scoring down the stretch in both regulation and first extra time, with Mills often singled out for extra attention, nobody else from the Boomers fold was able to step up and create shots for themselves, with Joe Ingles going 1 of 9 from the field for just 4 points.
Turnovers hurt too, giving up 22 for the game, with a number of them coming in crunch time too - it is a theme that has followed the Boomers throughout the tournament.
On a positive, the Boomers did own the paint, out-rebounding Spain 57-43, including 20 offensive. They also outscored their rivals 44-36 in the key, and the bench provided 11 more points.
Box score on FIBA website.
The Boomers will have to set aside the disappointment quickly. They can still win a first ever elusive medal at World Cup or Olympic level in the playoff for bronze on Sunday, against the loser of the other semi-final between Argentina and France.
Argentina, like Australia, have gone through the tournament unbeaten to the semi-final stage, while the Boomers accounted for the French by just 2 points in their Group L meeting. Since that encounter, the French went on to eliminate the USA in an outstanding quarter-final performance, highlighting just how tough the Boomers' side of the draw was.
Australian Boomers schedule for 2019 FIBA World Cup: (AEST)
September 15: Bronze medal game vs loser of Argentina vs France