Last night the Australian Boomers took down the New Zealand Tall Blacks in what was a firey, aggressive affair. The final score, 91-78 to the Boomers, was not indicative of how tight the first half was, with the Boomers leading by only two at the main break.
This was the first game of the FIBA Oceania Championship to decide which team automatically goes through to the London 2012 Olympics, and which will be forced to qualify via the more convoluted route of an elimination decider. Arguably both teams are well-deserving of an Olympic berth and this series has already shown to be a spectacle worth the basketball world’s attention.
Game one, in Melbourne, saw new Tigers recruit Patty Mills take the floor to a packed out home crowd and provide 20 points at a relatively disappointing 6/21 clip (4/13 from deep). He did manage to draw seven fouls, in what was a physical encounter.
Kirk Penney was, as always, the star for the Tall Blacks. He scored 30 points (11/20 FG, 4/8 3PT), in a similar role to that which he has done with the New Zealand Breakers in the NBL, playing alongside many of those same teammates. Unfortunately for the Kiwis, Tom Abercrombie didn’t come to the party with a relatively quiet seven point, three rebound performance. The Breakers need Abercrombie to be that second scoring threat if they are to succeed the rest of the way through this series.
As the game went on, it became apparent that New Zealand was getting frustrated with the deficit they were facing, with the likes of Mika Vukona (18 points, 12 rebounds), Casey Frank and Mark Dickel getting slightly more aggressive than the referees would like, in an attempt to rile up the troops and intimidate the Aussies.
Boomers captain Matt Nielsen was having none of it when Dickel pounded young guard Matthew Dellavedova, coming to the defence of his teammate, who in turn was hit by Vukona and the rest of both squads. This incident had come after some all-in action involving Vukona and Aussie big Aleks Maric, as well as the provocation of Frank by Boomers forward Mark Worthington.
Worthington had a stellar performance for the Aussies, putting up 13 points, but more importantly, being an emtional leader during a tight period of the game. He took the edge off the Tall Blacks pushes and scored some key baskets, whilst getting under his opponents’ skin, as he has done to many an NBL opponent.
Nielsen showed that he is a highly valuable member of the Boomers, as I have repeated on numerous occasions here. A stat line of 10 points, six assists and five rebounds does not begin to show the anchor that he provides for this squad, populated by numerous youngsters.
With NBA star Andrew Bogut on the sidelines, due to insurance limitations, Maric (11 points, eight rebounds) provided the toughness inside that the Boomers needed, ably assisted by centres AJ Ogilvy and Aron Baynes, who all provide slightly different looks for Boomers coach Brett Brown.
Dellavedova has been a surprise, with respect to the number of minutes he has been provided by Brown in the rotation and the readiness he has shown to contribute. Playing ahead of more experienced campaigners in Adam Gibson (13 minutes) and Damian Martin (DNP), he has won Brown’s good graces through hustle, poise, defensive showings and a length that allows him to play either guard spot.
Brad Newley provided the highlight of the game with a tip-dunk off his own three-point missed shot — a move that few can recall seeing performed. Check out the video highlights, as Newley follows his dunk with a blocked shot reminiscent of LeBron James:
Game two will be played in Brisbane on Friday September 9, with the eyes of NBL guaging the potential success of a return of the Brisbane Bullets. This will be followed by a potentially-deciding game three in Sydney on Sunday September 11. Tickets are still available.
[image via NBL/Getty -- video via ryaninoz on youtube]