The West

Day one hurt the Boomers
Kobe Bryant shoots over Boomers captain Matt Nielsen. Picture: AP Photo.

Today’s defeat to the US stung the Boomers. But it was nowhere near the pain the Australian men’s basketball team felt on day one of the London 2012 tournament.

The defeat at the hands of Brazil not only extended the national program’s misery in opening matches in Games competition but it also put the squad in the predicament it faced at North Greenwich Arena on quarter-final night.

America’s band of NBA stars were troubled at times by the green and gold jerseys before advancing to the medal rounds with a 119-86 win.

While the result was expected it was something the Boomers were desperate to avoid going into the Olympics.

They endured the same fate four years ago when a fourth-placed finish forced them to meet the top team in the opposite pool. It, too, was Team USA.

So the plan going into the Games tournament was to start well. Unfortunately, the Brazilians triumphed 75-71 and captain Matt Nielsen believes the result cost the Boomers the chance to snatch a Gamed medal.

“You can pick apart all that you want (here) but the first night hurt us,” Nielsen said. “The four-point loss to Brazil put us in a place we didn’t want to be tonight.

“What do you from that moment – do you sulk about it or get in and get after it? From that moment on I think that is what we did and we kept building and building.

“We put ourselves in the mix against that team. Unfortunately the ending wasn’t great but there is nothing but pride in what we have achieved.”

For parts of the match against the Americans it looked as though the Australians could pull off the biggest upset of the past two Games. The US, which went into the quarter-final with a 128-5 record in Olympic competition, hadn’t lost at that level since their annus horribilis in 2004 when they had to settle for bronze.

The Boomers stunned the NBA all-stars with their start, but couldn’t capitalise because of the shooting yips at the offensive end. There were missed lay-ups and a woeful five-of-12 from the free throw line.

But to start the third term, when the US were set to run away with the match, the Australians kicked again. An 11-0 run sparked by guard Patty Mills (26 points) and the versatile Joe Ingles (19 points, eight rebounds) closed the gap to 56-53. And those from downunder in the crowd dared to dream again.

Unfortunately, then the monsters appeared. LeBron James cranked up his triple double (11 points, 14 boards and 12 assists) and Kobe Bryant, who hadn’t scored in the first half, went on a three-point shooting spree to finish with 20.

While many expected the result, the Boomers were gutted post-match. But coach Brett Brown had nothing but pride in his team’s performance and their ability to fight back after the setback against Brazil.

“I don’t believe the final margin is indicative of the game,” Brown said “I’m very proud of our guys, they’ve shown a level of competitiveness that makes me very proud to coach them.

“Our chances would have increased significantly if we would have avoided this cross-over.

“As Matt said earlier we made our own bed in that first loss to Brazil. And then we lost to Spain and to the group’s credit, starting out 0-2, we inched along and got better.

“We would be able to compete like we did against (semi-finalists) Russia. The United States is different, a different collection of athletes, a different collection of talent.

“Their ability to shoot threes and the quantity they put up – and then they get rebounds if they miss – makes them so dangerous.

“They went to another level.”

Australia finished in seventh place in the London 2012, the same level they struck in Beijing.

The West Australian

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