After finishing fourth at the Olympics on four separate occasions, Australia’s men’s basketball team has its first podium finish, beating Slovenia 107-93 in the bronze-medal game in Tokyo.
The Boomers were one spot shot of bronze in Seoul 1988, Atlanta 1996, Sydney 2000 and Rio 2016, but finally got their first medal on the back of a masterful 42-point outing from Patty Mills on Saturday night, bouncing back from a tough semi-final loss to Team USA on Thursday.
The points haul from Mills, playing in his fourth Olympic Games, was the second-highest mark by an Australian at the Olympics after Eddie Palubinskas’s 48 points in 1976.
Australia was aided in the early exchanges of the bronze-medal game by a rough start from Slovenian star Luka Doncic, but when Mills left the floor in the first quarter, so did any sense of cohesion in the Boomers’ offence.
But he returned after a brief two-minute break and helped ensure the Boomers had a slim 20-19 lead after the first quarter.
The second quarter was less of a contest, with Mills’s offence and Matisse Thybulle’s rapid hands on the defensive end sparking the Boomers.
Midway through the second quarter Mills scored 11 straight points to take the game from 28-28 to a 39-35 Australian lead, while Slovenia’s superstar and leader became ever more frustrated.
Thybulle, Mills and the Boomers’ hectic defensive energy kept the NBA All Star to nine points on 2/8 shooting from the field, with four turnovers in the first half. Meanwhile, Mills finished the half with a massive 26 points and four assists as the Boomers went into the long break with a 53-45 advantage.
So clear was Doncic’s frustration that he was hit with a technical foul at the end of the half and Australia started the second shooting from the free-throw line.
Mills’s long-range radar abandoned him in the third quarter as fatigue caught up, but Australia’s flag-bearer from the opening ceremony regularly got inside and scored at the rim.
So impressive was his scoring that Slovenia opted to double-team him at the end of the quarter, only for the Boomers to swing the ball around the horn for a wide-open three-pointer from Joe Ingles to extend the lead to 78-67 heading into the final frame.
That lead grew to 14 early in the quarter before a Vlatko Cancar triple, followed by a series of foul calls cut the lead to six in less than a minute of game time.
Australia quickly called a timeout to settle things down and reintroduce an exhausted Mills.
His return sparked the team once again, with key triples by Dante Exum and Ingles midway through the quarter giving the Boomers some much-needed breathing room.
Doncic did his best to get his team back into the game, but the injured and tired 22-year-old Dallas Maverick could not drag them back into the game, as Australia piled on the points.