Scores were tied at quarter time, Italy led by one point at the half before the Boomers took a three-point buffer into the final break – going on to win by that margin, 86-83.
Melbourne’s 25-year-old Jock Landale, in his first Games, was dominant topping Australia’s scoresheet with 18 points and seven rebounds.
Veteran Aron Baynes was influential teaming 14 points with seven boards and kept the scoreboard ticking over all night. Forward Nick Kay (15 points) was brilliant and efficient with captain Patty Mills (16 points) and Joe Ingles (14) clutch when the game was on the line.
The absorbing contest at Saitama Super Arena featured a number of lead changes, momentum swings and key moments provided by each country’s respective stars.
Coach Brian Goorjian said the Boomers planned to get better each game and they did that tonight.
“From the first game to this game we talked about turnovers and our offensive execution in the transition. I thought we played a much better game, offensively we moved the ball better, less turnovers, got better shots. I thought our second half, defensively we really locked them down and defended real well,’’ he said.
“I thought our bigs tonight – running the line, getting some cheap baskets, keeping the ball alive, tip outs to threes - were really big for us.”
The Boomers led by eight points with minutes remaining before a four-point play had the World No.10 with their tails up.
Australia’s composure down the stretch was impressive with the Boomers now 2-0 with one pool game to play on Saturday against Germany.
Earlier, Italy opened scoring in what would be a high-quality first quarter. Back-to-back triples from Mills and Baynes launched the Boomers, with Landale getting some early looks and a dunk.
Matisse Thybulle checked in, knocked down a three and would quickly add boards and assists to his growing stat line. Simone Fontecchio was busy with a game-high eight points for Italy as the teams were locked on 25 a piece at quarter time.
A Nico Mannion triple set the tone for Italy in the opening seconds of the second.
The Golden State point guard came off the bench and was dynamic adding nine points for the term.
Italy had an early five point-edge but when Baynes sunk a triple and Kay chimed in, Australia’s five unanswered points levelled the scores.
Landale, who scored four points in Game 1, doubled that output in the opening half.
The Boomers offence was spluttering before Ingles dropped a triple – his first score in the game – and broke the drought. Matthew Dellavedova and Kay helped mount a good fightback to get the contest back on level terms before Danilo Gallinari gave his country the slightest of leads ahead of the main break.
Italy extended its lead to six but the experience of a crafty Ingles and Baynes tied it up before Landale put the Aussies in front for the first time since the opening term.
The Boomers went on a 12-2 run half way through the quarter with Landale on the receiving end of Mills’ great work. A Mills triple fittingly handed Australia its biggest lead of the game.
Italy immediately responded with a three-point play, Fontecchio put Italy within one as the arm wrestle continued before a late Kay lay-up gave Australia a 65-62 advantage at three quarter time.
Australia 86 (Landale 18, Mills 16, Kay 15, Baynes 14, Ingles 14,) defeated Italy 83 (Fontecchio 22, Mannion 21, Polonara 12)
The Last Word with Sam Mackinnon, 3x Olympian (1996, 2000, 2004)
“We looked good early in transition and getting two feet in the paint while finding shooters and people rolling to the basket. We couldn’t execute on offense to start the 2nd quarter and to compound this were poor with our defensive rotations which allowed Italy to jump out to a lead. Goorjian quickly called a timeout and focused on the offensive reads in the half-court and made defensive adjustments and the scores were level after a handful of possessions.
The first half was made up of small runs with not much splitting both teams.
Italy started second half well which triggered the boys into action. Not relying solely on the three-point line, the ball started moving resulting in easy baskets and an increased intensity on defence, led by Thybulle which caused turnovers for Italy. A concerted effort to get downhill and play in the paint saw Baynes, Landale and Kay benefit and open up the floor for Joe and Patty to find range from deep.
A great team performance highlighted by the Aussie big men making their mark early in the tournament.”