The Boomers have recorded a sensational 86-83 victory over Italy in one of the best games of Tokyo 2020 so far consolidating their place at the top of Group B with one game remaining. For all your Tokyo 2020 coverage, stay tuned to The Inner Sanctum’s Olympic hub and the Olympics Central.
The Boomers came into this match off the back of a 21-point win over Nigeria, while Italy impressed in its comeback over Germany to win its opening game as well.
The last time these two sides met on the Olympic stage was Sydney 2000. In that one, Australia got over the line 65-62 behind Andrew Gaze’s 27 points to reach the semi-final stage.
They would meet again at Tokyo 2020 in the second group stage match-up of Group B.
Top of Group B clash produces fireworks
Both sides started quickly off the tip-off, with the Boomers finding their range early through Patty Mills and Aron Baynes. Mills was coming off a 25-point, six-assist performance in game one.
Matisse Thybulle quickly joined in on the three-point barrage when he came off the bench. This proceeded a beautiful find in transition where he bounced it through some Italian hands to a cutting Nick Kay, who duly laid it in.
Mills continued his off-ball movement to continually find open shots through Dante Exum – taking his tally to seven points in the first seven minutes – but on the other end, Danilo Gallinari was starting to get involved.
Australia was able to extend its advantage to four points with a Thybulle two-hand throw-down assisted by Mills behind his back before Jock Landale delivered his first points via dunk as well.
Italy called a time-out down 21-15 with 2:42 remaining in the first period, and it found its range from deep to halve the margin.
The Boomers kept their pressure up though, and zero turnovers through this period of the game would have been a huge tick for coach Brian Goorjian.
Their intensity may have been slightly brash at times, with Thybulle picking up two quick fouls that were avoidable, but the fact that the Boomers were fully locked in on the defensive side of the ball was a great sign after a steely start to game one.
A couple of trips to the free throw for Italy got them back into the contest on the scoreboard quickly, and the Boomers were all tied up at 25 a-piece at the end of the first term. Italy’s fightback to end the quarter was impressive given Australia had done so much right to produce a six-point advantage previously.
Golden State Warriors point guard Nico Mannion made his presence felt coming out of halftime for Italy. Coming off the bench after starting in the previous game, Mannion hit a three from the wing first, then got to the line through a Nathan Sobey foul to get his side out to a 30-25 lead off the back of a 15-4 run.
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The Boomers came roaring back into it courtesy of another Baynes corner three and Kay put-back, forcing Italy into another time-out with scores locked at 30-30.
Once again out of a time-out Italy was the better of the two sides. Mannion scored again for Gli Azzurri and they once again found a good source of points at the rim. By dragging Baynes and Landale out of the paint, Italy was able to expose the smaller help defenders of Mills and Matthew Dellavedova, who couldn’t protect the rim.
A steady diet of attacking Mills on offence was rivalled by defending Mills on defence. Italy was throwing multiple players at the Boomers superstar, forcing him to give up the ball. It caused some havoc before Australia was able to compose itself and find avenues to the rim.
Good defence led to good offence down the stretch of the first half for the Boomers, with Thybulle’s active hands picking up steals and leading to drunks at the other end as the Aussies beat their opponents down the floor. Landale was the recipient on one occasion to cut the margin to one with three minutes to go in the second quarter.
For a third time in the half, Italy came out of a time-out the better side and rattled off four points before Joe Ingles replied with his second three-pointer.
The bonus gifted Dellavedova two free throws to level the score with a minute remaining, but Gallinari showed his wares to take Kay off the dribble and lay in an easy one. But once again, Italy being over the foul limit became a factor and Kay dropped in two from the line before Gallinari responded for Gli Azzurri.
After a frenetic final few minutes, it was Italy who held a slender one-point margin into the main break. They led the Boomers 45-44. Mannion was the spark plug, but Simone Fontecchio was making his presence felt with 12 points.
For Australia, Mills was well contained after a quick seven-point start, and the big-men Landale, Baynes and Kay would lead the scoring with eight points each.
Can’t split the Group B competitors
Coming out of the half, it was evident that the Boomers were focused on getting the offence going earlier in the shot clock. It started to produce some good looks, with Mills flying around the court and Ingles becoming more aggressive and finding his first points inside the arc.
By the 6:12 mark of the third term, the Boomers were in the lead.
Some scrappy moments saw Italy unable to convert opportunities, and Australia took advantage through several Mills assists to Landale at the rim. Achille Polonara quickly responded from deep to close the margin to 55-58, but Mills was feeling it and he drained a long three-ball from the top of the arc to double the Boomers’ lead.
A defensive masterclass from both sides left the remaining minutes of the third term a struggle, with the Boomers clinging on to a lead by the barest of margins after sloppy turnovers and low percentage shots left them without a score of over three minutes of play.
Once again, Patty Mills drove in, faked the shot and dumped it to Kay with the third quarter expiring who put it in just in time. It was the fifth assist for Mills to lead all-comers and gave the Aussies a 65-62 advantage – the same scoreline as their previous Olympics match-up with Italy.
With one quarter to go, it was all to play for in a match that would most likely decide who finishes first in Group B.
Jinglin’ Joe says we’ll be o-Kay
Thybulle started the fourth in terrific fashion, rising to block the Italian’s step-back jump-shot attempt to give the Boomers defensive momentum. It couldn’t quite translate to the scoreboard though until Ingles found his range again with seven minutes to go which stretch the lead to 71-67.
Defences were terrific, and shot clocks were running out without good shoots being found as both offences continued their dry spells. Turnovers increased, and offensive fouls became commonplace as Mills and Gallinari both misfiring opportunities from distance that they would make more than miss.
Game-time dwindled to five minutes remaining with scores locked as they were over a minute before, and with another shot clock violation for Italy came an opportunity for Australia to take the lid off the basket from the free-throw line.
Landale stepped up and calmly made the first to increase the Boomers’ lead to five points. He missed the second, but Kay – who has worked tirelessly on the boards – collected a tough offensive rebound, dished the ball out which found Landale who had faded to the three-point line, and the ball swished through for a makeshift four-point play to extend the margin to 75-67.
Italy called its first time-out of the fourth term, and they had previously responded brilliantly in these situations.
And respond they did.
Fontecchio continued his incredible game and had a four-point play of his own, being fouled by Ingles while shooting a three. He closed the gap to four points again.
Coming back the other way, Nick Kay did it again for the Aussies. Off the low block, he spun and found the net, but Fontecchio scored quickly at the other end leaving three minutes on the clock.
Ingles – looking as casual as ever – found himself with the ball and a new 14-second shot clock after an offensive rebound, and took the responsibility himself to hit his fourth three of the game and bring it out to seven points.
From there, the Boomers’ defensive identity came to the fore. All five Aussies on the floor became switchable and flew around the court chasing the Italians off the three-point line and helping in the key. Brian Goorjian shouted instructions from the sideline with the ball in hand as Dellavedova and Ingles dribbled time off the clock before the ball inevitably found itself in the hands of Mills who was unable to convert.
Italy converted their shot to bring it to three points with 40 seconds remaining, but Mills wouldn’t miss twice and he got the lay-up to go before Mannion responded at the other end. With 20 seconds remaining, Australia ran down the clock as much as possible.
Italy fouled with 14.9 seconds remaining, and Thybulle stepped up to the line cooly to drop in the two most important free throws of his Boomers career. Italy called its final time-out down 84-79 with 14.9 seconds to play in the match of the tournament so far.
Out of the time-out, Mannion flew to the basket and scored two more with nine seconds remaining, before the Boomers inbounded quickly and the ball found the safe hands of Patty Mills.
Mills made the first and made the second to restore a five-point lead before Mannion went the length of the court to score with 4.3 seconds remaining.
Down three with no time-outs, Italy worked out a plan to steal the ball off Australia, while the Boomers sent their best ball handlers and free throw shooters out there to consolidate victory.
Ingles got it into Kay, so spun away from the foul and got it out to Mills who dribbled the game out for a fantastic victory for the Aussies. It was the game of the tournament so far in men’s basketball, and it would take something special to trump it.
Nick Kay was simply outstanding for the Boomers, with 15 points and four rebounds. Jock Landale top scored with 18 points, while Patty Mills recorded 16 points and had five assists.
Italy will next face winless Nigeria, while Australia matches up with Germany in the final Group B matches.
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