Australia have lost a heartbreaking bronze medal playoff in Rio, with Spain prevailing in the dying seconds to hold on for a 89-88 win.
The loss was not without controversy, with some tough calls going against the Boomers throughout the game, none more costly than a foul call on Patty Mills with under 6 seconds remaining that saw Spain steal back the lead with two made free throws. With one last chance to win, Australia were unable to get a shot away as Spain celebrated a bronze medal win.
Mills was outstanding for Australia who were forced to overcome a strong start by Spain, pouring in a team-high 30 points. He received great support from veteran big man David Andersen (15 points) and sharpshooter Ryan Broekhoff who went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field for 13 points. Brock Motum delivered when it mattered most, adding 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting.
Pau Gasol was the star for Spain, delivering a game-high 31 points, and with Andrew Bogut fouling out early in the second half, he was able to dominate.
Aron Baynes opened with a baby hook, but then Spain went on a 6-0 run, started by a Gasol dunk for a three-point play. A timely Mills triple halted the run, and soon after Ricky Rubio picked up his second foul with just 3 minutes gone in the first period, sending him to the bench. Matthew Dellavedova soon followed him to the sidelines after he picked up his second foul also with Spain leading 8-5.
Nikola Mirotic hit a three to put Spain up by 6 points. Australia were struggling to find a way to score in the first term. Andersen was working overtime offensively as he tried to keep Australia in touch. As the Boomers tried to push the tempo, Broekhoff converted on a breakaway lay-up. The referees were having an influence on the game with some phantom calls made against both sides.
Mills nailed a tough shot after creating off the dribble as his side closed to within three, However Victor Claver would drain a triple at the other end to push the margin back out to 6 points, with Spain leading 23-17 at the first break. Gasol and Mirotic were doing the damage, combining for 16 first quarter points.
Dellavedova opened the scoring for the Boomers in the second period, while Andersen kept firing as Australia looked to take the game up to Spain. Motum cleaned up a miss by Andersen and was looking dangerous too. Yet Spain still managed to find a way to slip further a way as their lead increased to 9 points on a fast break make by Juan Carlos Navarro.
Broekhoff's three-pointer following a timeout gave the Boomers hope, yet Spain answered with two consecutive treys of their own. The Spanish were being given far too much room both inside and out, allowing them easy scores as they stretched the lead to 12.
Late in the period, the Boomers appeared to step up their defense, and with triples to Mills and Andersen, the Boomers went on a run. Andersen was then fouled attempting a three-pointer with 3.2 seconds to go that sent him to the line. He would make 2-of-3, capping a 10-0 run to end the term that saw his side trailing 38-40 at half time.
Andersen was providing veteran composure, leading the Boomers with 13 first-half points, while Mills went 4-of-11 from the field for his 10 points. Little separated the sides on the box score at the main break, with Australia gaining a 20-13 edge in rebounding (6-3 offensive), while turning the ball over 9 times to 5. Gasol had 13 points, while Mirotic was unable to add to his 8 first-quarter points.
The 3rd term started with Bogut picking up his 4th foul but he remained in the game. Mills drained a three, Bogut blocked a shot at the other end, and then Dellavedova hit a runner as the Boomers took their first lead of the game, 43-42. Just as things were looking good for Australia , Bogut picked up his 5th foul of the game on a Rubio drive and was forced from the game for good.
Mills and then Ingles kept the scoring ticking over as both teams traded baskets. Motum was getting involved at both ends of the court, blocking Mirotic on two straight shots, and then scoring at the other end. Mills continued to fire, keeping the scores tied at 57-all in what was becoming a high-octane game, entertaining contest only marred by some perplexing officiating that saw Motum hit with an unsportsmanlike foul and Rubio called for a technical. Broekhoff landed a late triple, but Spain scored the last basket of the quarter to lead by 3 at the final change (67-64) .
Both teams traded scores to open the final period. In a battle for a loose ball, Baynes and Mirotic collided with the latter leaving the court injured after Motum scored. Dellavedova then set up Motum who threw down a monster dunk to tied the scores up at 70-all.
Both teams continued to trade scores and the lead in a hotly contested final period. Broekhoff was having a big influence, landing a trey and cleaning up in the paint.
Mills hit 1-of-2 free throws to make it 80-79 with just over 3 minutes to play. Gasol hit a tough fade-away over Baynes to edge back ahead, but then Baynes returned the favour at the other end to put his side back in the lead. Moments later, Gasol flushed a missed shot to again initiative yet another lead change. Things were tight, close and uncompromising as the game went all the way down to the wire.
A great offensive set by Australia found Mills open at the free throw line only to miss. Andersen then pulled down the massive offensive rebound and was fouled, making both to put Australia ahead by 1. Gasol would do the same on the next possession as the lead changed again. Baynes then made good position in the paint to rattle home a baby hook to edge back ahead with 9.7 seconds remaining.
On the next play, Sergio Rodriguez drove out of control into the lane with Mills in front of him, with one official bailing out the Spaniard with a blocking foul called. Rodriguez would make both under extreme pressure with 5.4 seconds to regain the lead.
The Boomers had one final opportunity to win the game. However Australia was unable to control the ball and failed to get a shot away, allowing Spain to hold on for an enthralling, yet controversial victory.
After the game, the Australian players were left gutted and speechless. Spain celebrating earning bronze, preventing Australia earning a first ever medal.
"One defensive stop away from a medal," expressed Mills after the game. "It is an Olympic games...and just goes to show how hard it is to win a medal."
Bogut who fouled out early in the 3rd quarter was left almost speechless.
"You don't like to make excuses, Spain played a great game," said Bogut. "There were questionable calls throughout the game. That's FIBA basketball for you. We don't expect anything less from the referees."
Behind Mills' 30 point outing, Andersen added 15 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists, while Broekhoff went a perfect 5-of-5 from the field in providing 13 points (3/3 3PT). Motum delivered a scoring punch off the bench with 12 points (6/8 FG) and 6 rebounds in a brilliant second half performance.
For Spain, Gasol dominated in leading all scorers with 31 points (12/15 FG) and 11 rebounds. Mirotic would finish with 14 points and 7 rebounds, Rodriguez 11 points and 5 assists, and Fernandez added 10 points.
There was little separating the teams, with Australia earning a 40-30 rebounding advantage, but giving up 15 turnovers to 7.
It is a bitterly disappointing ending for the Boomers whose aspirations of gold were extinguished by Serbia. After overcoming Spain's fast start and battling to overcome foul trouble to Dellavedova and Bogut's early exit, it was a case of 'what could have been'. Either team could have won this game, and it was unfortunate the officials imparted their influence on the contest unnecessarily.
While Spain will be recorded as the bronze medalists, the Boomers have made their mark on the world stage, and importantly back home in Australia.
For the first time in 16 years, the Boomers can again be considered one of the best teams in the world. They have raised the profile of basketball in Australia, capturing the minds and attention of the Australian public. While the players themselves will be bitterly disappointed, their performances are something we should all be proud of.
Basketball in Australia and on the international stage is set for a golden age. The 2019 FIBA World Cup in China awaits and Olympic redemption beckons in Tokyo.