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Three key storylines to watch as Australia prepares for Lithuania in the World Cup
The Australian Boomers picked up right where they left off after their first game, eventually dispatching Senegal in a scrappy win, 81-68. A final victory against Lithuania would secure progression as the top seed in Group H, and advancement to the next group stage.
Australia was tested in the first three quarters against Senegal, however Joe Ingles' monster all-round game kept the African nation at bay. Jingles nearly had the first ever FIBA World Cup triple-double, ending with 17 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists. Patty Mills continued his scorching hot form, collecting 22 points on 8/16 shooting.
Lithuania also took care of business on their end, defeating the Canadians 92-69. “The Baltic Giants” also remain undefeated and mostly unchallenged thus far, right on par with their own high tournament expectations.
As both teams square off for the top spot in Group H on Thursday, it is only right to dive into some potential story lines and match-ups to watch out for.
1. Battle of the big men
Minutes, coaching strategy and game performance will be key determinants in this coming game.
It's likely that Aron Baynes, who happily braces himself for yet another physical and gruelling contest, will start at centre for the Boomers once again. The 32-year-old could make his third 10+ point outing against Lithuania. Should the rotations stay consistent, young gun Jock Landale will start at the four. Despite having quickness and agility, Landale has been inconsistent at times through the first two games. Both players have shown a willingness to shoot the 3 ball but have had limited success, combining for 1/7 from long distance in Australia’s first two games.
Let's not forget about Andrew Bogut, who adds versatility and experience to Australia’s big men rotation. Despite being out of his prime, Bogut's basketball IQ provides tremendous value for his teammates – whether that be via operating as a playmaker in the high post, setting screens or continually yo-yoing to play help defence.
Australia's big men will be challenged to match Lithuania’s two biggest stars, Domantas Sabonis and Jonas Valanciunas, on the scoring end.
Sabonis is a left-handed player who is mostly known for his ability to operate in the post, face up by putting the ball on the floor, or simply threaten as a receiver in a pick and roll scenario. The big man's extensive offensive repertoire and footwork allows him to draw contact and get to the free throw line (averaging 5.5 FT’s per game). Sabonis has recorded 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds through the first two World Cup games on an efficient 50% field goal percentage.
On the other hand, Valanciunas is more force than finesse, using his sheer size to get cheap buckets inside. The 265-pounder will often use his strength to finish against contact, notably giving his team energy with and-one finishes or aggressive dunks. Valanciunas has been a monster so far in the tournament, averaging a near double-double at 13 points and 9.5 rebounds per game, while only missing two shots in total (11/13 field goals after two games).
Numbers and win totals might suggest the duo make an impressive pair, but their overlapping skillsets could hinder their ability to execute consistently. Lithuanian head coach, Dainius Adomaitis has admitted there is an uncomfortable fit between these two (via journalist Mazvydas Laurinaitis), but expect him to keep his two best players on the court in crunch time.
2. Intangibles, energy
With all great, successful basketball teams there need to be contributors who will embody selfless and inspiring intangible basketball plays that may not show up on the box score, but contribute to the final result. No two players epitomise this sort of emotional leader more so than that of Matthew Dellavedova and Renaldas Seibutis.
Delly is one of the most dogged players the NBA and basketball world has ever seen. Known for his hardnosed defence, the 2016 NBA champion is more than willing to throw himself on a loose ball, take a charge from anyone and continuously make plays for his teammates.
We know Delly busts his behind all game long, but it’s still shocking to see a player who will score a bucket and immediately pick up full-court right after, especially when his team is up 10 with 2 minutes to go. These are the types of things on the basketball court that aren’t glamorous, but definitely enhance team morale and spirit.
On the other side, Renaldas Seibutis is the Lithuanian emotional team leader who inspires great patriotism for his nation. Seibutis has been statistically quiet in the tournament, but has still provided valuable minutes, great defensive effort and is clearly an integral part of his team.
Seibutis might not be as known to the basketball world as Delly, but the guard is just as energetic and motivating to his teammates and fans alike. Often showing emotion after a score or defensive stop, the 33 year old is the heart and soul of the Lithuanian squad.
Both players are not offensively limited by any means. We’ve seen Dellavedova explode this tournament already against Canada, while Seibutis just came off a season in the Spanish League averaging 11 points on 35% shooting from 3 his team, Tecynconta Zaragoza. Despite this, both players, on this stage, will mostly stamp their mark on the game via their hustle and heart.
3. Scoring big buckets when the going gets tough
When teams are as evenly matched up as these two, an unexpected scoring stretch might end up being the difference. One contested three can turn into a heat check from 30 feet, and all of a sudden the opposition is deflated and starring into the barrel of defeat.
Patty Mills has shown the world time and time again he is no stranger to high pressure situations. Whether it be in his countless performances for the green and gold, even as recently as 13 4th quarter points down the stretch against Team USA in the Boomers' warmup game series recently, or his efficient 22 points against Senegal, Mills is clearly a player who lifts for the big occasions.
Another microwave scorer for the Boomer? Chris Goulding. The Melbourne United star doesn’t quite have the reputation and pedigree Mills possesses, but has shown a flair to hit shots in quick succession. Goulding has proven his worth as a go to scorer, connecting on over 60% of his threes in his first two games at the World Cup, including a 16 point out-pour in the opener vs Canada.
On the contrary, Lithuania also have flamethrowers who are more than capable of swinging the game in their direction. Although they may be relatively unknown to the average NBA fan, Lukas Lekavicius and Marius Grigonis are two Lithuanian guards who can fill up the box score in quick succession.
The 6' Lekavicius mostly scores his points in the 2-man game or on fast breaks, often attacking the rim with aggression and speed. The 25-year-old has drawn comparisons to Isaiah Thomas, with both players sharing a similar game mostly due to their shoot-first style at their height.
Grigonis is an emerging young talent who can score from all three levels in the half-court offence. He has started both contests, averaging 10 points a game. The Zalgiris Kaunas star has shown flashes of elite scoring that will be needed if Lithuania are to counter Australia’s vast offensive depth.
This game begs to be a classic. Not only will this contest prove to be a great indicator to the form of both teams, but also it will greatly enhance the winner's chance of being on the podium at the end of the tournament. Winning this game will ultimately mean avoiding tournament favourites, Team USA in the quarter finals, and rather potentially playing them, in the semi-finals instead.
The Australian Boomers game against Lithuania tips off on Thursday, 5 September 2019 at 9:30pm AEST. For Australian fans, the Boomers’ run in the 2019 FIBA World Cup can be viewed on Kayo Sports and Foxtel.
Australian Boomers schedule for 2019 FIBA World Cup: (All times AEST)
September 5: Boomers vs. Lithuania, 9:30pm
September 7 & 9: Round of 16
September 10 & 11: Quarter-Finals
September 13: Semi-Finals
September 15: Medal Games