Neither Russia nor Australia had anything substantive to play for in the opening contest of the final day of group play in the men's basketball tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Coach David Blatt's team had already sewn up the top spot in Group B with its thrilling 77-74 win over Spain on Saturday, and Brett Brown's Boomers were locked into the group's fourth slot — and a quarterfinal matchup with the top seed in Group A, a slot currently held by (but not yet locked up by) the United States — by virtue of preliminary-round losses to Spain and Brazil, which will battle it out for the second seed Monday afternoon. Yet despite the relatively low stakes, both teams played to win, and in the closing seconds, power-packed Aussie point guard Patty Mills was the difference-maker.
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After a pair of free throws by shooting guard Vitaly Fridzon (author of a buzzer-beater of his own against Brazil last week) gave Russia an 80-79 lead, coach Brown called a timeout to diagram a sideline-out-of-bounds play with 4.1 seconds remaining. Mills triggered the play from the right boundary, passing it to Aussie swingman Joe Ingles, who was freed up along the baseline by a screen from teammate David Andersen. Immediately after passing the ball, Mills sprinted off the sideline toward the middle of the floor, gaining some daylight thanks to a strong screen on Russian defender Evgeny Voronov by Australian guard Matthew Dellavedova.
The 6-foot-7 Ingles saw Mills breaking free and made the pass over the top of the Russian defense, hitting Mills as he crossed the top of the key. With a trailing Voronov and a rotating Fridzon in hot pursuit, Mills had just enough time to let it rip as he trailed to his left. The prayer went up with 1.7 seconds left and splashed through just as the final buzzer sounded, giving Australia a rousing 82-80 upset.
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It wasn't the strongest offensive game for Mills — the San Antonio Spurs guard, who exploded for a tournament-high 39 points in Australia's blowout win over host nation Great Britain on Saturday, finished with 13 points on just 5-for-16 shooting from the field and notching just three assists against four turnovers in 31 minutes of play. But with the game on the line, he was money when it counted, sending Australia to a solid 3-2 finish in group play ahead of their knockout-stage matchup with the Americans.
Australia was led by FC Barcelona stalwart Ingles, who led all scorers with 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting with four rebounds and three assists, and promising young guard Matthew Dellavedova, who added 10 points, seven assists, six rebounds and a steal in just over 33 minutes of work. Center Sasha Kaun (18 points on 8-for-10 shooting and six rebounds) led the way for Russia, whose two stars — forward Andrei Kirilenko and point guard Alexey Shved — both finished the game on the bench.
Kirilenko was being tended to after suffering what appeared to be a cut near his left eye following a scrum in pursuit of a loose ball with 1:07 left in the fourth quarter and Russia trailing 79-78. He finished with a relatively quiet 13 points on 4-for-9 shooting in the loss, though he did add six rebounds, two assists, two steals and a block in his 26 minutes. As for Shved? He rode the pine for the final 5:18, when Blatt yanked both the 23-year-old guard and forward Sergey Monya (who also wouldn't return) after the two players were talking while he was giving instructions in the Russian huddle during a timeout with the team down 77-70. Shved played just 17 minutes in the loss, posting 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting, six rebounds, two assists and two steals.
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As the top seed in Group B, Russia advances to take on the fourth-place finisher in Group A, a slot that has not yet been decided. If Lithuania beats Tunisia in their Monday morning matchup, the Lithuanians will move on at 2-3, thanks to holding a head-to-head tiebreaker with Nigeria, but if coach Adel Tlatli's hardworking Tunisian squad can pull the upset, things could get mighty interesting at the bottom of the bracket.
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