Boomers winning ugly on road to Rio redemption

Rio redemption is at hand. It is one win away. With their 82-70 victory over the Czech Republic, the Boomers will meet Spain in a semifinal to determine if a gold (or silver) medal is in play. Lose, and they will still have the opportunity to nab their first ever medal in a major tournament, in the bronze medal playoff. It's effectively a double chance.

This serendipitous twist - to face Spain once again - seems fated by the basketball gods. More on that later.

Right now, the Boomers can exhale knowing they are firmly two games away from something truly extraordinary. Right now, they can rightfully bask in the knowledge that they are in the final four, and that's all you can ask for - to give yourself that genuine opportunity to win a medal. The margin of victory no longer matters - not at this stage of the tournament. All you have to do is win - win well, or win ugly - it's all the same. And win ugly they did.

This was a limited Czech Republic team that should not have posed any problems, as they scrapped their way on defence, goading the Boomers into one-on-one basketball and general sloppiness. On offence, they kept it ultra-simple - of their first 28 points, 20 were in the paint. This was one of those games in which the Boomers had to find a way to play above the level of their competition.

As has been their custom, the Boomers were also their own worst enemies at times, reckless with the ball, and often guilty of overpassing. They had four turnovers inside five minutes, and would finish the first quarter with six.

"With the amount of ball movement that we have, and player movement that we have, you're going to get some turnovers," said Andrej Lemanis, postgame.

Patty Mills is a national icon. If not for his 13 first quarter points, who knows if the outcome would have been different. For Czech Republic, Patrik Auda was particularly aggressive early, getting to the cup too easily with simple straight-line drives. He would like 13 points on 5-of-7 from the field in the first half.

The Czechs had successfully junked up the game, in a match that had little flow courtesy of the constant churn of turnovers, fouls, and a zone defence at times - anything to get the Boomers out of a rhythm.

"I thought with their switching defences, they caused us just to be a little anxious I think early," said Lemanis. "It took us a little while to find our rhythm offensively."

At the half, the Boomers led 33-30, but it was the manner in which they had been suckered into a grind. When they did work the ball, they could generate any shot they wanted, although perhaps the shot profile still skewed too far along the perimeter. They had taken 16 three-point attempts by half-time, but it was the manner in which those looks materialised, often without incursions inside the arc, either off-the-bounce or through ball movement.

Of course, the Boomers corrected course and rejiggered their approach and subsequent shot selection to commence the second half, with more inside-out basketball; they still took 9 three-point looks, but the ways they were manufactured were different.

After the heroics of Aron Baynes against France, it was Andrew Bogut's turn.

When he came on in the third quarter, the Australian offence worked through him in the post. There was a skip pass to Chris Goulding for a triple, followed by a bounce pass to a cutting Nick Kay. Then a righty hook off the glass for good measure. Suddenly, the Boomers offence flowed. His numbers in this game do not do him justice in terms of his impact on both ends.

Baynes' impact has been undeniable, but Bogut, despite foul trouble, has had a good tournament too. Before this game, amongst centres, he was 4th in total rebound percentage (nabbing 24.5 percent of available boards) per RealGM; and he's 4th in assist rate amongst those classified as five-men. He's outperformed Baynes in most advanced metrics (Baynes has the lower turnover rate, but he's not a creator).

As has been the Boomers' way against the "lesser" competition, they found a way to win. It's what Andrej Lemanis has been at pains to point out after every uneven performance in this tournament. And it's true. You can't play a perfect game, and the good teams find ways to win when they aren't at their best. In this respect, the Boomers have consistently delivered over the past 2 weeks.

And now awaits Spain. The last time these two sides met was at Rio when the Boomers lost a heart-breaking playoff for bronze.

"The job's not finished for us," said Lemanis. "As you know, we finished fourth at the Olympics and that was a terrible feeling."

"There were some tears," Bogut told ESPN a few weeks ago, when he recalled the memories of that day. "We thought that was our chance to at least get a bronze. We thought - and still to this day - that it was taken away from us.

"It was disappointing when you look back, because we thought - we didn't play a great game either, that game - we battled. That one hurt just because we felt like we should have won that game."

"In many ways, that hurt has driven just the passion and the focus for this particular tournament, and the commitment to it," said Lemanis after their win over Czech Republic. "I think one of the first things that I heard when I walked back in the locker room was guys saying, 'job's not done yet. Job's not done yet.'"

Some of the names have changed, but the memories remain.

Instead of Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol stands tall to lead the Spanish. Ricky Rubio, Rudy Fernandez and Sergio Llull and Willie Hernangomez return.

No matter. The Boomers have risen to every challenge to date. The chance for redemption has been three years in the making, but perhaps even that does not matter, nor mean much. This is the chance to secure their first ever World Cup medal after all. And they will be ready.