It was now or never. Australia chose now — their 81-61 victory over China firmly planting them among the contenders in Pool B with an important matchup against Russia on the horizon. A loss would have put them in dire straits as they would have been pressed with two essential knockout games. They can’t breathe a sigh of relief yet but their odds have improved exponentially since yesterday.
At the tail end of the first quarter, Australia began a 14-4 run that gave them a 23-22 lead in the second frame. Joe Ingles was diving to the lane with impunity, creating two consecutive and-1 scenarios in the period, and David Andersen was scoring from the perimeter and playing an unusually excellent brand of basketball that combined solid post defense and a knack for creating turnovers.
The Boomers held a 16-point lead at halftime and the head of their attack — Patty Mills, Ingles and Andersen — contributed 36 points. China received 12 improbable points from Wang Shipeng, all of which came from behind the arc.
Wang continued to take advantage of the Australian defense and his two 3-pointers to begin the second half spurred a 10-0 run that cut the deficit to eight points. Yi Jianlian wasn’t effective nor was he awful. He missed five of his seven attempts but, coupled with 12 rebounds and 14 free throw attempts, it was a semi-positive showing for China’s heir to Yao Ming’s throne. The Chinese entered the final quarter with a nine-point deficit.
While the Chinese shot a bunch of 3-pointers and made a bunch, they offset their proficiency by turning the ball over 19 times. For reference, that nearly doubled their assist total (10). The excessive amount of mistakes, nearly every player on the roster contributed to the turnover count, prevented themselves from benefiting from their 3-point shooting.
Mills also made it difficult; he finished with 20 points, four rebounds and four 3-pointers while piercing China’s porous transition defense. It was an uncharacteristically efficient night and hopefully more indicative of Mills’ game as Australia advances further.
For China, this loss ostensibly signals the end of their medal hopes. They will need to defeat Brazil (iffy at best) and beat a lesser-talented Britain team with the inestimable advantage of home-court.