The night kicked off as the Australian Indigenous All Stars took on the Hawaiian National Team. After their respective welcomes to country the exhibition game kicked off in front of a rapidly filling Marvel Arena. Both teams were evenly matched in terms of size and skill, too evenly matched as it turned out with the match finishing in a draw at 34 – 34.
Despite the uproar surrounding the misleading marketing of the event and the “dropping out” of key players for both the Australian and American National teams, the stadium appeared at capacity and brimming with energy as both teams were announced. The ovation for the American’s (Greg Popovich received the loudest cheer) failed to compare to the cacophony that awaited the Australian’s, with Joe Ingles and Patty Mills receiving especially warm welcomes.
All rose for the Star Spangled Banner and Advance Australia Fair. As the last note struck, the crowd of Aussies erupted and began to deafen all those in attendance as the teams moved into their warmups.
The US gained possession off a scrappy tip and immediately moved into 1/5 pick and roll with Kemba and Turner only to be blocked from behind, the Aussies raced the other one as Ingles misses a wing 3, only for the US to rebound and open the scoring with a Donovan Mitchell dribble pull up.
This start to the game exemplified the way that this contest would play out. The United States ran a more isolation heavy style with Donovan Mitchell and Kemba Walker excelling out of the pick and roll. With their mix of athletes and shooters the American’s looked to spread the Boomers’ defence and take advantage of slow rotations from their Twin Towers in Baynes and Bogut. This offensive scheme meant that wings like Kuzma and Tatum were able to shake loose and impact the game from the 3 point line. Late in the second quarter the Aussies seemed to find their feet, Landale and Ingles dug in defensively and their disruptiveness led to a pair of Goulding triples and a late Patty Mills three that brought the game back within a point heading into halftime, with USAB leading 44 to 43.
The third quarter highlighted how this iteration of the USA team can act as a cohesive and suffocating defensive unit. The quickness and tenacity of the American’s proved difficult for the Australian guards to deal with, their ability to switch and rotate coupled with the interior presence of Myles Turner lead to a stifling third quarter. The Aussies failed to find any semblance of an offence outside of Chris Goulding who once again provided an offensive kick. The USA contrastingly took a stranglehold on the game through efficient isolation scoring against ill-advised switches on the Boomers’ behalf.
The USA ended the 3rd quarter on a 13-0 run, leading 76 – 61.
The Australians looked to have lost their bite heading into the fourth quarter and their inability to claw back the lead meant that soon enough the benches were cleared, and the game was essentially over.
Coaches Popovich and Lemanis spoke about the significance of last nights game and what it means for basketball in Australia, as well as discussing how they felt about their teams’ performance.
For the Australians:
Chris Goulding was surprisingly comfortable playing at this level, leading the team in scoring (19pts) and sparking some important runs throughout the game.
The Australian guards in Dellevadova and Mills looked solid, not spectacular. Delly struggled to create at times but was effective initiating the offence. Mills’ off ball movement and defence were important in keeping the Boomers in it, he was tied for team honours with 19 points.
Andrew Bogut looked spry and had some exhilarating moments, hitting Mills with a behind the back pass from the elbow after blowing by Mason Plumlee for a dunk in the previous quarter. Baynes didn’t look particularly comfortable but as a leader and defensive anchor he was solid.
Jock Landale continues to improve, his team high 2 blocks exemplified his defensive effort, and whilst the box score may not reflect his offensive impact, the spacing he provided from the Centre position will be key moving through the world cup.
For the Americans:
Kemba Walker looked like the best player on the court at all times, his 23 points came from a variety of pick and roll options as well as multiple off the dribble 3-pointers. The USA offence was able to force the Boomers’ to scramble and players like Mitchell, Harris, Tatum and Brown were able to consistently manufacture good shots in isolation.
Myles Turner was impactful with his 15 points and 14 rebounds, he was outmuscled at times against Baynes but his mobility and rim protection looks to be the defensive anchor that the USA require if they’re to take home Gold.
Middleton, Barnes and Lopez weren’t particularly effective in this game, but as the elder statesman of the team it was obvious that they were able to steady the Americans as Coach Popovich turned to them in response to the Boomers’ second quarter onslaught.
There’s much to make of the significance of this game, without dwelling on the issues surrounding seating and the promise of NBA “superstars” there were a number of things that became apparent after last nights game.
Firstly, the sheer number of people, 51,218 to be precise, that packed Marvel Stadium to the brim was completely overwhelming. This attendance set a record for any Australian Basketball event ever. Players and coaches from both sides were blown away by the sheer volume of the crowd, with Coach Poppovich detailing how he “felt like he was in a movie”. This game provided an opportunity for Australian basketball fans of all ages to access the international game in a way that has never previously been available to them. To see their idols from both Australia and the United States play live in a competitive setting on Australian soil exemplified how far basketball has grown. Hopefully this event and similar events in the future create an inspired generation of Australian basketballers to carry the torch for one of the proudest sporting nations in the world.
Lastly, whilst the numerous positives of this game far outweigh the negatives, it was apparent to many in the crowd last night that a large majority of the crowd, particularly in the floor level seating, were not basketball fans. Reports are flooding in of people at floor level who were ignorant of not only the significance of this event, but amazingly of the more intrinsic knowledge of the game like the rules, players’ names or teams. It is disappointing to see how the exorbitant pricing effected the accessibility of this event for the diehard basketball fans. But moving into the future one would hope that the national exposure that this event got and the publicity that it created can produce a positive change and revolutionize the popularity of the sport in Australia.