It was a grind, but the Australian Boomers showed why they're among the favourites to win gold at the Tokyo Olympics.
In a matchup against Italy that was always going to be a challenge, the Boomers stepped up defensively and made the sorts of winning plays you generally only see from a group that's seen it all before.
A clutch Patty Mills layup that floated high off the glass sealed the 86-83 win, but that wasn't the story of this game, and that's where we begin our takeaways.
Matisse Thybulle is the Olympic debutant who quickly made a name for himself as the intangibles guy; the player who was prepared to do the little things to help the Boomers get over the line. He did that in the first quarter against Italy, and had a big block in the final period, but it was a pair of other Australians who stepped up in that regard consistently throughout this one.
Nick Kay continued to be a human brick wall -- against bigs, and when switched onto guards -- while Jock Landale made multiple game-changing plays down the stretch to keep the Boomers with the slight advantage in this one.
The key number to look at there is 16-6. That was Australia's advantage on the offensive glass, with the Boomers earning 17 second-chance points. In the sort of tournament that can be decided on one play -- it's like the NBA Playoffs in that regard -- earning those extra possessions is vital, and Landale did a terrific job crashing the offensive glass against a smaller Italian team to tap out a lot of Australia's misses. Getting those tap outs is even more effective because a defence is out of position, allowing the ball to fall to an open three-point shooter, or one who's perhaps a pass away.
Whether it was a timely cut after the Italian defence collapsed on penetration, or even Aron Baynes hitting really important three-pointers late in the clock when possessions had stagnated, Australia's bigs showed up in a big way on Wednesday evening.
Those are the winning plays needed when, once the knockout portion of the Olympics begins, are crucial to this team's medal hopes.
Boomers in the Group B driver's seat
Don't underestimate how big that Australian win was when it comes to the final makeup of Group B.
The Boomers are now atop the group with a 2-0 record, and a win over Germany on Saturday (AEST) would solidify a position in the first pot when the quarterfinals matchups are decided. That's important because it'll mean that quarterfinals game would be played against, ostensibly, a lesser team.
Again, in a tournament that can be so fickle, guaranteeing that sort of advantageous situation can be the difference between a medal and being sent home early.
Is Australia still a creator short?
Joe Ingles was quiet through his first five quarters in Tokyo -- the game against Nigeria, and early on against Italy -- but he showed an encouraging level of aggression in the later stages on Wednesday that should give Australia some hope.
Ingles shot those semi-contested threes he absolutely has the capacity to knock down, and was masterful as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations, especially in the second half. He has a knack for throwing perfectly-weighted passes to rolling big-men, and that's a big reason why Landale and Kay were among the team's leading scorers.
Still, questions over whether Australia has the necessary creators to comfortably go deep in these Olympics haven't completely been answered.
Matthew Dellavedova has yet to show up in that regard, while Danté Exum looked stifled against an Italian defence that was collapsing well when he penetrated. Nathan Sobey has never excelled as a point guard at this level, and that trend has continued, so there's really no-one else on this team who can take over that creator role from Mills and Ingles.
You'd still bet on Exum continuing to get comfortable, but when you compare it to some of the other contending teams in Tokyo -- like the USA, France, and Spain -- it's an area where Australia is lacking, and one of those assets that become extremely valuable when possessions are limited down the stretch in an Olympics.