Australia (2-0) 95, Serbia (1-1) 80
Australia’s next game: vs. U.S., Wednesday, Aug. 10
Serbia’s next game: vs. France, Wednesday, Aug. 10
It was a nip-and-tuck battle through 33 minutes Monday, but then Australia hit the gas and left Serbia in the dust, fueled by the go-go play of the Boomers’ bombastic backcourt.
Patty Mills of the San Antonio Spurs scored 13 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead Australia to a 95-80 win over Serbia. New Milwaukee Bucks point guard Matthew Dellavedova dished six of his 13 assists in the final frame for the Aussies, who continued their hot start to the 2016 Summer Olympics, improving to 2-0 after an impressive upset victory over France on Saturday to open Olympic group play, and putting themselves in great position to not only advance to the knockout stage, but land a preferable path to the medal stand once they arrive.
This is the first time the Australians have ever won their first two games in an Olympic tournament, according to FOX Sports Australia, and much of Monday’s success came from the scoring and playmaking fervor of their starting guards. Mills shot 6-for-8 from the floor and a perfect 8-for-8 from the free throw line as the energetic engine of Australia’s attacking offense. Dellavedova added 23 points of his own (7-for-8 from the field, 3-for-4 from 3-point land, 6-for-7 from the charity stripe) and ran the show brilliantly, playing 29 minutes of turnover-free basketball, while also grabbing two key fourth-quarter steals to help short-circuit the Serbian comeback effort.
It wasn’t just the guards who shined, though. Center Andrew Bogut of the Dallas Mavericks continued to look excellent less than two months after suffering bone bruises in his left knee that knocked him out of the 2016 NBA Finals, scoring nine points, pulling down 12 rebounds and dishing six assists while doing battle with Serbian star and former Milwaukee Bucks big man Miroslav Raduljica, who carried the Serbian offense with a team-high 25 points on 7-for-13 shooting.
As strong as Raduljica was in the paint, though, he didn’t get much front-line help – rising Denver Nuggets star Nikola Jokic turned in a quiet seven points in his 18 minutes of work – while Bogut was supported by Detroit Pistons pivot Aron Baynes (10 points, seven rebounds) and Aussie captain David Andersen (nine points, six boards) up front.
The two teams played tough, physical basketball throughout, with neither side able to generate much separation into the early stages of the fourth period. Paced by Raduljica and the fiery playmaking of Milos Teodosic, a former FIBA Europe Player of the Year and Euroleague MVP who plays professionally in Russia, Serbia led 67-64 with eight minutes remaining in regulation. From there, though, Australia ripped off a 9-0 run – five points from Mills, four from Baynes, two assists from Dellavedova – to take a five-point lead with 5:40 left.
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Serbia wouldn’t get back within one basket again, as Mills and Dellavedova continued to attack Teodosic – widely considered one of the best offensive point guards outside the NBA, but a clear defensive liability – to generate layups, free throws and kickouts for good looks. An offensive rebound and putback of a Raduljica miss by former Golden State Warriors first-round draft pick Nemanja Nedovic cut Australia’s lead to four with 1:59 remaining, but Dellavedova shut the door, finding Utah Jazz swingman Joe Ingles (13 points, five assists, three rebounds) for a 3-pointer before picking off a Nedovic pass and feeding Mills for a bucket to push the lead to nine with 1:32 remaining. Australia would finish the game on an 11-0 run, coming all the way back from an early-fourth deficit to score their second straight comfortable win over a team in the top six of FIBA’s international rankings.
It’s very likely, of course, that the wave Australia’s riding will crash come Wednesday when they take on the U.S. men’s national team, which eliminated the Boomers in the quarterfinals of the knockout round in both the 2008 and 2012 Summer Games. But with France sputtering in its fortnight-opening 21-point loss to Australia, Spain stumbling to a last-second loss to Croatia in its first Olympic contest, and Argentina perhaps a bit too long in the tooth to consider a sure thing for medal contention, Australia’s mix of playmaking guards, interior bruisers and tenacious defense could make them the team best suited to threaten Team USA – and, with a few breaks, maybe even do more than “threaten.”
“We’re going out there to win a game,” Ingles said, according to Brian Mahoney of The Associated Press. “I think we’ve got a team that is focused on that and we believe we can do some special things in this tournament.”
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