While it might be true that alphabetically there is no ‘D’ in NBL All-Australian Team, their past two performances on-court have shown that in reality nothing could be further from the truth.
Fresh from holding Team China to a miserly 22 points in the final 25 minutes of Game 1, the Aussies stepped it up a notch to allow just six points in the first 15 minutes of the rematch in Hengyang.
You don’t need a degree in mathematics to figure out the NBL’s finest have kept a national team – which scored 92 points on Korea in its last meaningful outing – to 28 points in 40 minutes of basketball bridging the two games.
Andrej Lemanis’ men put on a clinic of measured full-court defence to slow entries into offence, disciplined pick-and-roll help and recover, and just sheer workrate to constantly build a wall in front of the ball and force contested jumpers.
The NBLers forced six turnovers in the opening quarter and, to finish off their impressive work, didn’t concede a single o-board for the term despite six missed Chinese three-pointers, which can easily turn into long rebounds.
There was no lid on the rim at the other end, the Aussie running up 11 quick points as Daniel Kickert and Chris Goulding were the beneficiaries of some dizzying ball movement that opened up drives, lay-ups and trifectas.
It was a clinic in execution fuelled by a group of Boomers very familiar with Lemanis’ system.
“When guys who have spent a bit more time in the system are on the floor you can be a bit more complex and creative with all the options you have available to you,” he said.
Better for longer
As the Australians prepare for the final game of the series in Beijing on Tuesday night, eager to close out the first sweep in the three-year history of the match-up, they’ll be hoping for more consistency of this offensive sharpness.
It was never all going to last in Game 2, however, too much talent and pride in the Chinese team, particularly on home soil, and that poses some questions for Lemanis and Co.
Once China upped their offensive aggression, getting the ball into offence quicker, and adjusting by finding star centre Wang Zhelin around the high post, the points began to flow.
With the Aussie defence forced to collapse the three-point shooters found a little more space, with Liu Zhixuan and Zhao Tailong well and truly finding their range – resulting in 46 points in the next 20 minutes as China put on a show for their fans.
Lemanis tried deploying a more aggressive full-court defence, but with the home side in an aggressive mindset this only fuelled the fire.
Eventually, in the final three minutes of the game, the All-Australians’ weight of numbers and sheer workrate to apply defensive heat got the game back on their terms.
However, to get the brooms out in Beijing they will need to find answers for the dynamic duo of Wang and Zhao, who combined for an impressive 35 points at 61 per cent from the field.
Remarkably, Wang converted 6-of-9 from two-point range, while his teammates managed just 3-of-17 against the intense Australian pressure.
Similarly, Zhao nailed a red-hot 5-of-7 from the arc, while the rest of his team made only 2-of-17.
To taste victory again, the Aussies will also likely have to find their own range, having shot 15-of-61 from outside, including a wayward 18 per cent in Hengyang on Sunday.
Thankfully, Goulding came to the rescue with some of his trademark shot-making in the final term – including a stunning four-point play and a clutch corner triple with China up four – fulfilling Lemanis’ pre-series wish for his flamboyant shooting guard.
“Be Bubbles. Make some shots,” he laughed.
But Goulding was also an important piece at the other end, continuing the defensive progression he showed under Dean Vickerman at Melbourne United last season.
“I thought we saw that over the last couple of years with the national team as well, he showed that he can apply himself at that end of the floor,” Lemanis added.
While Zhao briefly got off the chain in Game 2, Goulding and Gliddon have performed strongly against China’s bigger wings, and Gliddon also came up with two big plays to secure victory on Sunday.
His perfectly-timed backdoor cut – at a time in the final quarter when sharp cuts through constant holding were quite a feat – to connect with a David Barlow pass put the Aussies within striking distance.
Then, after Barlow found him in transition moments later, Gliddon delivered what would ultimately be the three-point dagger, taking the responsibility Lemanis has been urging upon him.
“He’s been around the system long enough now,” the coach said.
“He’s starting to get, in this particular group, on the veteran side of it, so for him to stamp his authority on the game at certain times is important.”
Who will step up in Game 3 on Tuesday night? Both teams have shown tremendous grit defensively and in the fight on the boards, which one can find composure under pressure at the other end?
Will Wang and Zhao find some mates to carry more of the load? Will China’s perimeter game resemble the 2-of-30 shooting of the opening 55 minutes of the series, or the 7-of-16 in the most recent 25 minutes?
Break the shackles?
Can Jason Cadee, Adam Gibson and the Aussies find a more consistent level of calm in the face of physicality to create more good looks?
After foul trouble has ruined his series to date, maybe it’s the moment for David Andersen to step up in a hostile environment, as he has so many times over his storied career.
“He makes the sorts of plays that can’t be influenced by referees,” Lemanis said.
“When you catch it, turn around and shoot it from 17 feet there’s not a lot anyone can do about it.”
If marksmen like Andersen, Kickert, Goulding, Gliddon, Barlow, Cadee, Gibson, Alex Loughton, Jesse Wagstaff can finally lock in from long range, the Aussies could blow China away.
But don’t count on it, it is almost unheard of for China to be swept on their home floor, so expect this to be another hard-fought and physical contest.
Catch it at 9.40pm AEST on Fox Sports and NBL TV.
NBL All-Australian Team v China
Game 3 – Tuesday 12 June in Beijing
The Australian squad for the tour is:
Angus Brandt – Perth Wildcats
Cam Gliddon – Brisbane Bullets
Adam Gibson – Brisbane Bullets
Chris Goulding – Melbourne United
Craig Moller – Melbourne United
Jason Cadee – Brisbane Bullets
David Andersen – Illawarra Hawks
Brad Newley – Sydney Kings
David Barlow – Melbourne United
Jesse Wagstaff – Perth Wildcats
Alex Loughton – Cairns Taipans
Daniel Kickert – Sydney Kings