It hasn't been pretty and there have been bumps along the way, but the Australian Boomers remain undefeated as they head toward the next stage of their Tokyo Olympics campaign.
An 89-76 win over Germany sealed the Boomers' fate as the top team in Group B, allowing them to enter the Finals Phase as a part of the first pot of teams; now slated to face one of the countries that'll be in the second pot.
We await to see who the Boomers will go up against in the quarterfinals - it's looking like either the loser of Slovenia vs Spain or the winner of Argentina vs Japan; group results are still trickling in, and then a draw needs to occur - but, until then, let's dissect the team's win over Germany.
Patty Mills: point guard?
Positions are largely useless in basketball nowadays, but, over these last few games - and especially on Saturday - we saw more of Patty Mills as a point guard. As a player who usually and still excels so well off the ball, he's been the Boomers' primary creator from the top of the key, and more-often with the ball in his hands.
We saw that consistently during Australia's win against Italy, and that carried over to this game against Germany, with Mills involved in what looked like a lot more pick and roll situations than usual.
The Boomers' lack of creators has been one of those things worth keeping an eye on up to this point, and Mills has seemingly taken it upon himself to step into that role in a forceful way. In particular, Mills' ability to use on-balls to get into the lane, then dish to his bigs in the dunkers spots, has been extremely effective against defences that chase over screens and play him so tightly.
Mills finished with 24 points on Saturday, but also six assists. That comes after he had five assists against Italy.
As we enter the Finals Phase of the Olympics, don't be surprised to see Mills continue to assert himself in that way.
Landale and Kay look ready to step up, but will it be enough?
No Baynes means the rest of the Australian frontcourt had to step up. We saw glimpses of that from all three remaining Boomers bigs, but especially Jock Landale and Nick Kay, with the pair really asserting themselves on both ends.
We saw Landale do some creating from the top of the key, look like the Melbourne United version of himself by doing work in the low post, and roll hard for easy looks under the rim. Again, no Baynes means someone has to be an assertive inside presence, and Landale has seemingly taken it upon himself to assume that mantle.
Kay has been a two-way terror, guarding multiple positions extremely well while bringing the sort of energy on both ends that makes a tangible difference in a game. Against Germany, Landale finished with 18 points, while Kay had 16 of his own.
The question is what the Boomers' ceiling is without Baynes. Landale has stepped up as the team's most productive big, and Kay has been as reliable as ever, but this prominence is a new frontier for both. Neither have demonstrated that they can consistently produce at this level, and there's a good chance some of the tournament's better frontcourts could neutralise them to an extent. At this point, that question remains unanswered. We've seen glimpses of both being bigs who can affect winning; let's see if they can keep doing it.
Australia's margin for error: extremely slim
Let's get this out of the way. The Boomers are 3-0, have looked like the best defensive team in Tokyo, and have one of the best players in the tournament in Mills, who has expectedly been terrific. They haven't lost a game in this entire Olympic cycle.
Still, nothing has been easy. Their trio of wins haven't been convincing, by any means, and there have been lapses that are somewhat discouraging with more talented teams on the horizon.
With no Baynes, Mills looking like their only backcourt creator, and Matthew Dellavedova and Joe Ingles yet to show off enough to be inspired, there has to be some level of concern going into the do-or-die Finals Phase. The Boomers will have an upper hand by being in the first pot of teams, but the stakes are higher than they've ever been, with the urgency turned up all the way. One loss and you're out.
This team has the capacity to make a deep run as this tournament reaches its critical stages - their high-level defence would be the biggest factor there - but the margin for error is wildly narrow. One bad shooting night from Mills, or one of their two playable bigs getting into foul trouble, and that could spell the end of the campaign.
We're effectively entering playoff basketball; every possession counts and mistakes are compounded by the circumstances. At the risk of sounding dramatic, there's a chance the Boomers will have to be near-perfect in order to go deep into this tournament.