Australia advances to the second round of the 2019 World Cup undefeated, after withstanding a second half surge from Lithuania to register a thrilling 87-82 victory. And after New Zealand's elimination at the hands of Greece, the Boomers have qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games as Oceania's representative.
After a blistering first-half shooting performance that saw Australia scorch the net by draining an incredible 9 of 14 three-pointers to open up a 11 point lead, Lithuania made the necessary adjustments to turn the game into a defensive arm wrestle.
While Aron Baynes was arguably the best-performing Aussie of the night in delivering a 21 point and 13 rebound double-double, when the game was on the line it was Patty Mills (23 points) who stepped up to hit the clutch shots down the stretch yet again.
Mills hit a tough turnaround jumper to put the Boomers ahead by 2 points late, before burying a dagger three with 32 seconds remaining to all but assure Australia of a famous victory over their long-time nemesis.
With the win, the number 11 ranked Australia has now won their opening three games at a World Cup for the first time in history, taking down the number 6 ranked Lithuanians, and bolstering their chances of qualifying for the quarterfinals.
1. Australia's first half shooting
When Mills drained a three in transition for the Boomers' first points of the game after trailing 0-4, little did anyone realise what was about to unfurl. The Boomers went on a 9-0 run, and ended the opening term leading by 8 points after draining 5 three-pointers for the term.
The hot shooting continued in the second period, with the Boomers draining a further 4 from long-range to keep the Lithuanian's on the back foot. Dellevedova dished out 5 assists in the first half, with the last one being on an alley-oop to Baynes, all made the more possible due to the perimeter shots dropping.
Australia would finish the opening half hitting a sizzling 9-14 treys, with five different players dialing long distance. At one stage, the Boomers led by as many as 15 points.
The bulk of Australia's scoring was coming off assisted plays, with the Boomers racking up 16 assist to half time, highlighting the havoc that Australia's hot perimeter shooting was able to cause.
Australia did cool off in the second half, and credit to Lithuania for being more organised in closing out open shots. The Boomers finished 11 of 26 from long-range, making just 2 triples in the second half.
2. Battle of the big men
The much anticipated battle between the big men was a highlight of the game. While Andrew Bogut was limited due to foul trouble, Aron Baynes took it right up to Lithuanian NBA stars Jonas Valanciunas and Domantas Sabonis. Jock Landale's scoring should not be underestimated in the battle either.
Baynes was hitting threes and finishing on back cuts, especially in the first half. Defensively he was outstanding, blocking and changing shots while holding his ground.
Baynes and Landale were stretching the Lithuanian defence with two made three-pointers in the first half apiece, and forced their opponents to show them respect out at the perimeter. That allowed Landale, Baynes and even Nick Kay regularly finding themselves on back cuts for easy scores at the rim. Australia's screening, both on-ball and off-ball was forcing multiple switches, and it often resulted in Lithuanian confusion and easy Australian scores inside.
While Australia's bigs managed to stretch Lithuania, Sabonis (12 points and 4 rebounds) looked a class above in the post against Landale, and Valanciunas (7 points and 7 rebounds) looked just as dangerous. However it was at times intriguing to note that Lithuania became so obsessed with pick and roll plays and dribble hand-offs -- which did prove fruitful -- that the Lithuanian big men were often overlooked.
Valanciunas' defence was exceptional, and was a big reason as to why the Australians scoring dried up in the second half. But it is hard to argue against Baynes being the most dominant big man on the court in this game.
3. Guarding pick and rolls and dribble hand-offs
Much has been said of Australia's inability to guard pick and rolls, but against Lithuania, they also struggled to guard dribble hand-offs too.
Marius Grigonis and Lukas Lekavicius picked the Boomers apart, scoring almost at will from anywhere near the free throw line. In fact all the Lithuanian guards took their turn. Australia did tighten up late in the game to make life more difficult, it is an area of the game that Australia is regularly being exposed.
Looking ahead to France and the Dominican Republic, it is an area the Boomers will need to address.
Both Australia and Lithuania now head to the Chinese city of Nanjing for the second round, with two games each against the Dominican Republic and then France as part of Group L to be played on 7 and 9 September. The top two teams from Group L will take on the top two teams from Group K. Group K will comprise of the top two teams from Group E and F, including USA, Brazil, Czech Republic and Greece.
The Boomers are in the box set to advance to the quarterfinals after progressing to the second round undefeated with a 3-0 record. One win against France or the Dominican Republic is likely required to provide passageway, win both, and they are guaranteed first place in Group L, and will play the second placed team in Group L in the quarterfinals.
Australia next take on the Dominican Republic on Saturday, 7 September from 6:00pm AEST. For Australian fans, the Boomers’ run in the 2019 FIBA World Cup can be viewed on Kayo Sports and Fox Sports Australia.
Australian Boomers schedule for 2019 FIBA World Cup: (All times AEST)
September 7: Boomers vs Dominican Republic, 6:00pm
September 9: Boomers vs France, 10:00pm
September 10 & 11: Quarter-Finals
September 13: Semi-Finals
September 15: Medal Games