Boomers, Canada quietly optimistic after series

With the two-game series between the Boomers and Team Canada over, the general mood remains one of circumspect optimism for both camps.

"We've shown glimpse of when we can be really good," says Chris Goulding, who started game 2. "But the main thing for us is can we accelerate growing our chemistry in [the] defensive and offensive end. If we can do that and get to a level where we know what's going to happen with the other player before it happens, we can do something really good. It's all about time together on the floor."

"Overall, I think it was a very positive two days for us," says Gordie Herbert, the associate head coach for Canada.

Powered by a better defensive performance, and the parochial frenzy of 10,543 fans at RAC Arena, the Boomers were able to pull away in the second half to win game 2, and even the ledger - at least until both these sides meet at the World Cup on 1 September.

The offence still looked clunky, particularly in the first half that had an air of jittery familiarity. The game started once again with a Boomers turnover, whilst Andrew Nembhard danced through the lane to score off a floater on Canada's first possession.

The hissing frustration of the crowd only heightened further after every Boomers' miss, and every short-armed hook shot. There were moments of frustration for the Boomers in the first half.

Melvin Ejim ran in to grab an offensive rebound whilst four Boomers watched. Canada showed crisp and certain ball movement, breaking down the Boomers at the point of attack. There was one gorgeous Spursian sequence when Phil Scrubb was able to gain separation from his defender and charge downhill after a pick, forcing the Boomers to collapse. The result was a wide-open triple for Kyle Wiltjer.

The nervous tension only grew as half-time arrived, and the grizzly numbers were revealed - the Boomers shot 27 percent at the half, including 3-of-13 (23 percent) from deep. Yet Canada only led 33-30. The contest was decidedly defensive.

Andrej Lemanis preached learnings the night before, with a clear focus on the malaise exhibited on the defensive end.

There's no doubt that the Boomers ramped up their energy levels and physicality for game 2. On one possession in the first quarter, Chris Goulding, who started with Patty Mills rested (general soreness), harassed Phil Scrubb up to half-court, with the pressure ultimately leading to the Canadian stepping out of bounds.

"We came out and brought the energy today," says Aron Baynes, who started at centre with Bogut resting. "That's the way we've got to play."

"The intent defensively was different," says Nick Kay.

Defence needs to be the bedrock for this team - it isn't constructed to score enough - and that remains a work-in-progress, particularly with their pick-and-roll coverage.

In one sequence, Khem Birch set a pick on Matthew Dellavedova; Jonah Bolden, Birch's defender, rotated to help, only to see a free lane for his opponent to rumble in for an open dunk. Who was helping the helper?

"The intent, defensively, was better tonight," says Lemanis. "We were more engaged. More disruptive. Fought through screens better. Got on the floor. We were better on that end of the floor, which shows over the course of the game in shooting percentages as the game goes on."

After a frosty first half, the Boomers improved markedly in the second. They finished with a more respectable 38 percent from deep overall, from 12-of-31 shooting, after their 6-of-34 performance the night before.

The Boomers have typically generated their best looks when they've pressed Canada and pushed up the floor amidst the resulting chaos. It sounds simple, but it's the best way for this team to create offence.

Aside from Mills, there is no off-the-bounce threat who can generate consistent offence at this level. Even Mills' creation only leads to contested jump-shots. They need to push at every opportunity.

"I thought our endeavour to work the ball up the floor over the course of time paid us dividends," says Lemanis. "I thought we got out and played with a bit more pace - got some kick-aheads [passes]."

The Boomers were able to prod the Canadian half-court defence more in the second half, until a mistake eventuated - it was just a matter of finishing the looks.

"We were getting really good looks," says Goulding. "We just had to keep shooting, keep being confident, because we've been shooting the ball really well in practice. It was a bit befuddling why we weren't early on. But we took the lid off the rim and made some good ones down the end."

Joe Ingles has struggled from the field (he shot 1-of-6 both nights), and that is something to monitor. After hitting his lone outside shot in the fourth quarter, he raised both arms in relief. Matthew Dellavedova was more robust on defence in this game, chasing the ball-handler and pinging from one body to another.

For now, has Landale locked down the starting power forward position? For the second game in a row he was lively, consistently the first one down the court, capitalising on those quick-hitting passes.

Jonah Bolden who looked a little lost and uncomfortable in game 1, perhaps due to the relative paucity of minutes, sparked the Boomers in the third quarter in this game with his outside shooting and activity, including a behind-the-back flip that led to a Goulding triple.

"I'm pleased tonight that Jonah started to find a little bit of how he might be able to manipulate the offence and help us, and get some looks for himself, but also for others," says Lemanis.

Bolden's production powered the second unit to 38 bench points, a far cry from the night before. He also played 12 minutes in the second half, more than his entire total in game 1.

He has been the fourth big in both games, the odd man out in the rotation until he was first big off the bench in the second half of game 2. For Lemanis, that is just part of the process of assimilating the Philadelphia 76ers big man within a system that asks him to read and react.

"We run a lot of stuff. We've got a core of guys who've been together for so long we've been able to build on that over a period of time," he says. "I think it's hard for someone to come in fresh and try to absorb all of that, and then still play freely."

"I got more comfortable," says Bolden of his second half performance. "Plays started to evolve themselves just by having played more. I felt more free."

Remember, the Boomers have either rested Bogut or Baynes in both games and when the tournament starts, one of Kay, Landale or Bolden will be relegated to the fifth big man option. Bolden will need to tighten up his physicality in the rebounding contest.

Nick Kay has hustled and struggled, in equal measure, with the game at times looking too quick for him, although he has been unfairly matched up on perimeter players.

It will be fascinating to see how the big man rotation plays out.

"[We're] still identifying who we are offensively," says Lemanis. "Like what works for us. And then, now starting to refine the roles a little bit."

The difficulty in gauging where either side is at with their progress in the final lead up stages to their respective tournament campaigns is abundantly clear. Canada rested Kevin Pangos, whilst the Boomers sat out Patty Mills and Andrew Bogut.

"Who knows?" says Lemanis, when asked how much could be taken out of this series ahead of meeting Canada again at the World Cup. "You always get something. But you've also shown something."

For the Boomers though, there is blessed relief in getting a win and taking one step closer towards self-actualisation.

"Good progress with the second game," says Goulding. "Hopefully there's even more with the third and fourth."