The first game of an Olympic campaign is always destined to be a nervous affair for any team, but when that game is expected to be one that is critical to your team’s chances of advancing to the second round it’s fair to say there is going to be some added pressure.
That’s the situation the Boomers will face when they take on Brazil in their opening Group B game on Sunday evening Australian time.
The Boomers have been drawn with Brazil, China, Great Britain, Russia and Spain in Group B. They will need to register three wins in the group stage to ensure they don’t meet the top team in Group A in the crossovers, which is expected to be the mighty US ‘Dream Team’.
Brett Brown and his team would therefore undoubtedly be targeting wins against China, Great Britain and Brazil in preliminary play to advance with the best chance of achieving their goal of an historic first-ever Olympic medal.
Brazil certainly however won’t be pushovers.
The Brazilians are ranked 13th in the world, just behind the Boomers in ninth, and they qualified for London after finishing second to Argentina in the 2011 FIBA Americas Championship.
Whilst the Boomers will enter London without the services of their injured NBA centre Andrew Bogut, Brazil with have their full complement of NBA big men at their disposal.
Leading the charge will be Nene Hilario, the 211cm forward/centre from the Washington Wizards. Nene hasn’t made himself available to the Brazilian national team since 2007, and was somewhat of a surprise inclusion in the team for London. He will join fellow NBA bigs Tiago Splitter and Anderson Varejao to form one of the most intimidating frontlines the Boomers will face in London.
In one of their final warm-up matches before the Games, the Boomers were beaten by Brazil 87-71 in France, with the South American trio of giants dominating. Splitter scored 15 points, Nene added 12 points and 11 boards while Varejao snared 13 rebounds.
In that game, while the rebound count for both teams was virtually identical, the Brazilians enjoyed a 44-28 advantage in inside scoring. The Australians will need to find a way to control the South American frontcourt if they are to have a chance to reverse that result on Sunday.
The Brazilian backcourt also has plenty of talent, with Leandro Barbosa and Marcelo Huertas expected to provide plenty of trouble for likely Australian starters Patty Mills and Matthew Dellavedova. Barbosa was largely rested in the warm-up clash, playing less than three minutes, and is a former NBA Sixth Man of the Year, while Huertas was a standout in the Brazilians’ recent exhibition against Team USA.
In that game, the Brazilians actually led the Americans by ten points early before the Americans responded to win by 11 points.
Whilst the South Americans haven’t been to an Olympic Games since 1996, this will be a team that has plenty of confidence and which many are tipping to reach the final four.
The Australians are going to have to nullify the play of the South American big men and look after the ball. The Boomers coughed the ball up 21 times against the Brazilians in their warm-up clash, and will need to do a better job of looking after the rock if they are start their London campaign off on the right note.
Boomers Keys to Victory
- Pressure interior passes to the powerful Brazilian bigs and double-team if necessary;
- Limit turnovers against the South American pressure;
- Find some easy baskets in transition before the Brazilian defence gets set;
- Take the ball at the Brazilian bigs and look to get them in foul trouble;
- Make some perimeter shots early to free up the Boomers interior players;
- Manage first-game nerves.