Australia v Spain
12:30am Monday August 22 (AEST)
Australia: It may simply be a case for the Aussies of forgetting their Semi-Final performance as it was not indicative of their tournament. They showcased one of the strongest and most fluid offences of any team during the group stage and if they can get back to that style of play alongside their active hands and rim protection defensively, a medal is still on offer.
Spain: Finishing second in Group B, Spain were made to work after losing to Croatia by two points and Brazil by a point in their opening two games.
They bounced back with a win over Nigeria before destroying Lithuania by 50 points and Argentina by 19. The USA blocked their path in the Semi-Final although they only lost by six points as they aim for a third consecutive Olympic medal.
Serbia were able to solve Australia’s offensive rhythm by closing down Andrew Bogut’s ability to distribute the ball and Spain must be equally aware of the centre’s assist record. In addition, Aron Baynes was unable to seal a position in the low block, scoring just seven points but his five offensive rebounds were a good sign in an area that the Aussies have been lacking.
Baynes’ clash at the power forward position could be the deciding factor in this game as he goes up against the likes of Nikola Mirotic and Felipe Reyes. Reyes has a bigger frame that will enjoy battling the big Aussie in the paint but Mirotic is a deadly three-pointer shooter and if Baynes does not get help covering him on the perimeter, Spain could find a real advantage beyond the arc.
The other man that Australia must be able to slow down is Spain’s centre, Pau Gasol. Despite rumours of a back injury, Gasol has been outstanding in what will be his final Olympics, averaging 18 points, nine rebounds and two blocks. He has a solid mid-range jump shot that Bogut has to respect but is also a silky mover under the rim.
Shooting 1-9 from the three-point line in the Semi-Final, Patty Mills tallied just 13 points but Spain will not be relying on another poor night from the sharpshooter.
Serbia’s defensive plan was to also leave Joe Ingles alone on the perimeter and while he missed all four long range shots, he did tally 12 points on 5-10 shooting overall but freeing Matthew Dellavedova is key for Australia.
Without Bogut able to set screens for him, Dellavedova could not find any room offensively, collecting three points while the tournament’s assist leader had just two dimes. A hip niggle is also a slight concern but will not keep him from playing extended minutes in the last game of the Olympics.
They will have to contend with a fast-paced and hot shooting Spanish back court in NBA player Rudy Fernandez (10.3 points), Sergio Llull (9.1 points, 3.3 assists) and Sergio Rodriguez (7.6 points, 4.7 assists).
Fernandez is hitting two three’s per game at 36% but is also one of the tournament’s better defenders with two steals per contest while Rodriguez and Llull are a guard duo whose speed and penetration will test the stamina of Mills and Dellavedova. Keeping them out of the key will be critical to Australia’s chances as they are just as good at feeding the likes of Gasol as they are at scoring when they can penetrate.
Brock Motum played some important minutes for the Aussies late in their Semi-Final, finishing with the most efficient shooting night of any player with 13 points on 5-8 from the field. The offensive woes were felt by most of the bench though with Chris Goulding, David Andersen and Ryan Broekhoff combining for six points on 1-13 shooting.
Not quite at the talent level that Serbia’s Milos Teodosic is at, Spain’s Ricky Rubio is still a masterful passer and he will provide an intriguing contest for Kevin Lisch and Damian Martin whose overall defence throughout the tournament has been exemplary.
Players like Willy Hernangomez and captain Carlos Navarro have also provided a punch off the bench for Spain while Jose Calderon is a veteran NBA point guard who cannot be forgotten, despite not receiving any court time in the Semi-Final.
The number two ranked side in the world, Spain have missed out on a silver medal for the first time since 2004 and they may feel the pressure of having to deliver at least a bronze in Gasol’s last campaign.
Australia were ranked 11th coming into Rio but have proven they are certainly in the conversation of a top-five team after stirring wins over France and Serbia in the group stage. They must go back to the way they played in those games and forget the Semi-Final, while making adjustments for how the Serbs covered Bogut and Dellavedova at the offensive end.
They simply cannot shoot as badly as they did two nights ago if they want to win their first ever Olympic medal and Mills’ determination should keep him from another off night. Baynes’ eyes may also light up if he can seal Mirotic in the low-post while Bogut and Gasol, two warriors that are no doubt ailing, will push each other for one last chance at glory.