Continuing doggedly on my mission to spark some interest in Olympic basketball while the Brewers go yard for the playoffs and the Packers embark into the post-Favre era, take a look at what Milwaukee Bucks center Andrew Bogut was doing Friday night halfway around the world in Beijing, China.
That fiercely emphatic dunk on Andrei Vorontsevich were points 10 and 11 of a 14-7 Australia Boomer run to begin the 4th quarter of a do-or-die medal round qualifying game against 2007 Eurobasket champs Russia, hammering the Aussies home to an 80-62 lead. The.Australia run effectively buried Russia, though forward Viktor Khryapa (Chicago Bulls) made it interesting with a barrage of three-pointers after the Aussies had pushed the lead to 21. The final was a convincing 95-80, with Bogut throwing in a three-pointer with 30 seconds left to spite the equally chippy Russians. Bogut finished with 22 pts, 8 rebs. Aussie point guard C.J. Bruton scorched the nets for 22 of his own and handed out 6 asts.
Their reward? The Group A #4 seed and a
an almost certain quarterfinal matchup against Team USA, which on Saturday made perhaps the strongest statement USA basketball has uttered since the Jordan-Magic-Bird Dream Team — a 119-82 blowout of 2006 world champion Spain. Team Redeem clinched the Group B #1 seed and meets the Boomers Wednesday. (Standings and latest scores). Both teams played meaningless 5th games, with Australia waltzing Sunday night 106-75 over injury-conscious Group A top seed Lithuania and Team USA this morning destroying Dirk Nowitzki and Germany 106-57.
Until Friday night, the 23-year-old Bucks center’s Olympics had been disappointing and frustrating. As Australia crumbled against Croatia and Argentina, Bogut scarcely resembled the aggressive post player Bucks fans saw most of last season. Worse still was that he wasn’t playing very much and was the focus of debate about the team’s failures. Aussie coach Brian Goorjian rose to make an impassioned defense of Bogut Thursday but along the way revealed that he, as coach, was de-emphasizing his star player — on purpose. The coach apparently believed that some of the lesser Aussie players would be responsible for delivering wins and Australia’s first-ever basketball medal.
In the Russia postgame, Goorjian again told reporters that he still didn’t think the team should rely on Bogut to carry them. The coach is in obvious denial about his team. (I’d love to hear an opinion from Yao Ming’s China coach about Goorjian’s attitude toward his center).
Against Russia, however, Goorjian finally did what basketball coaches do: he played his best players and finally seemed to settle on a rotation, riding Bogut and the timely shooting of Bruton to victory. Bogut logged 28 minutes and was strong from start to finish (including a “we mean business” unsportsmanlike foul on Utah Jazz/Russia star Andrei Kirilenko to open the 2nd half). Less than 48 hours after the coach had said Bogut could not be expected to carry the team, Bogut carried the team. That’s what star players do. Unfortunately for Australia, Goorjian spent the first three games of the Olympics foolishly trying to prove otherwise.
For more about Goorjian’s curious handling of Bogut in Beijiing, I made live game notes during the Australia-Russia game and have moved those to the bottom of this, the BBJ mothership weekend Olympics post.
Team USA 119, Spain 82 Boxscore. What to say about Team Redeem that hasn’t already been said? The Team USA defense is the dominant force in this Olympic basketball tournament. Pau Gasol (Lakers), Jose Calderon (Raptors) and their world champion Spanish team were no match. Lebron James and Dwyane Wade seem to have found a higher gear of intensity that may not have existed until now. The two stars are playing with what looks like controlled fury. I don’t think either one of them cracked a grin the entire first half, as they again led the team.
*Jason Kidd shocked the world by taking and making a shot, joking after the game that he had ruined his Olympics. “My man gave me the ball and I had to take the layup – even though I didn’t want to,” Kidd said. The shot came at the 6:56 mark of the 3rd Quarter with Lebron James leading a fast break. Kidd dutifully filled the left lane just like in practice drills and Lebron found him with a pass too close to the basket for Kidd to do anythng but plant his right foot and go up for the left-handed layin — which, by the way, was textbook. Obviously feeling sheepish after the game, he snuck out of the arena like Mike Tyson the night Buster Douglas knocked him out.
*After hitting nothing but rim the first three games, Denver’s Carmelo Anthony found his jumpshot, scoring 16 pts on 6-8 shooting, 4 of 6 from behind the arc. Anthony and the Pistons’ Tayshaun Prince (Pistons) were partly responsible for the extra gaudy margin of victory, shooting a combined 7/10 from downtown, while the rest of the team shot a merely human 5/15. Bucks guard Michael Redd missed his lone three-point attempt.
* Team Redeem stole the ball 16 times, led by Chris Paul‘s 5 steals (also 14 pts). Spain turned the ball over a whopping 28 times, a rate of one turnover every 85.7 seconds.
* Lebron James led with 8 asts (and 18pts). Lebron leads the Olympics in assists through 4 games with 22 (5.5 avg).
* Pau Gasol played 33 minutes but was held check, with just 13 points on 5-8 shooting. His 7-foot-tall, 270-lb brother Marc played some solid stretches, with 8 pts, 3 rebs in 18 mins before fouling out. Marc Gasol has a good-looking mid-range shot and mixed it up against the US, getting to the line six times. Looks like the Grizzlies have a player.
* Redd played 12 minutes in the second half, scoring 4 pts on 2-4 shooting (0-1 from downtown). He did not play in the first half, but didn’t try to force any offense during his stint in the 2nd. With all the frenetic defense and fast-paced transition the Redeem Teamers play, they haven’t had much of a role for him.
Yi hits crucial final minute shot, China advances 59-55 over Germany: Much like his former teammate, Bogut, Nets forward Yi Jianlian rose from goat to hero status in his fourth Beijing game, swishing an 18-footer with 28 seconds to go to put China up 58-55. Yi wasn’t done. He then sealed the win on the defensive end, harassing Mavs All-Pro Dirk Nowitzki into a missed three and a turnover. Yi finished with 9 pts, 11 rbs in his best game of the Olympics while also guarding Nowitzki most of the night. Dirk scored 24 and hauled down 17 rebs, but shot only 7-20 from the field, capping the night with that horrific final 28 seconds. Somewhere in New Jersey, a GM is breathing a little easier.
Yao Ming carried China with 25 pts, 11 rebs. China made the medal round for the second Olympics in a row, and close
sd against Greece Monday. It could get goofy. The loser plays Lithuania, a preferable matchup to the one the winner gets: Spurs All-NBA guard Manu Ginobili and Argentina, the defending gold medalists. (Unfortunately, it didn’t get goofy – Yao just didn’t play most of it. He scored 16 pts in 18 mins as Greece “won” the #3 seed 91-77.)
Australia 106, Lithuania 75 – With Lithuania undefeated and Croatia securing the #3 seed with a blowout of Group A patsy Iran earlier Sunday night, this game was meaningless. Australia started quickly with Bogut scoring 9 points in the first 2:20 seconds and only briefly looked back – when Bogut went to the bench for seven minutes in the first half. That stretch was the last time Lithuania pulled to within single digits. Bogut led all scorers with 23 pts on 10-12 shooting in just 16 mins. The Aussie D forced 25 turnovers, a good workout with Team USA next.
The boxscore and game lines say Bogut shot 3-3 from 3-point land, but there must be some mistake. A criticism of Bogut in the NBA is that the midrange jumper he had in college has disappeared, but what’s this? Was it a long-range jumper all along? With 3 threes last night and 2 against Russia, he now has more 3-pointers in Beijing than Michael Redd, Team Redeem’s three-point specialist. Perhaps Bogut’s trying to send a message to Scott Skiles? The message is probably for Aussie coach Goorjian. “Keep me in the game” would be appropriate.
USA 106, Germany 57 – Team Redeem jumped out to a 20-3 lead and the rout was on. Carmelo Anthony opened the scoring with a jumper, which isn’t so unusual, but when Jason Kidd hit a three-pointer and Dwight Howard made a free throw in the early minutes, Germany should have packed it in and headed for the Olympic Village.
Proving that, yes, Orlando Magic center Howard has been somewhat bored against the likes of Greece and Angola, Team Redeem’s only center woke up against Germany’s NBA big men Dirk Nowitzki and LA Clippers center Chris Kaman. Howard led all scorers with 22 pts, 10 rebs and 5 missed free throws. Kaman answered with 6 pts and 4 rebs in 17 mins, hardly worth the special German work visa that has allowed him to play for his great grandparents deutschland in the Olympics. … Kaman committed 3 turnovers in less than a minute spanning the end of the 1st quarter, first few ticks of the 2nd quarter – which is difficult to do. This is one of the reasons, 2006 playoffs also among them, that Kaman did not make the Bob Boozer Jinx Top Ten (or 13) NBA Centers’ List.
Lebron and Kobe were a combined 7-10 from 3-point land, which should probably be against the rules of fair play. The rest of the team shot just 4-16 on threes, including 0-4 from Michael Redd. On the game, Redd played nearly 13 minutes, mostly in the second half, and shot 1-9 from the floor, finishing with 2 pts, 1 reb, 1 steal and 1 turnover. … Germany has a 6′ 9″, 247-lb forward named Sven Schultze who looks precisely like Sven Schultze.
1-USA (5-0) vs. 4-Australia (3-2) – 7AM
2-Spain (4-1) vs. 3-Croatia (3 – 1:30AM
3-Greece (3-2) vs. 2-Argentina (3-1) – 9:15AM
4-China (2-3) vs. 1-Lithuania (4-1) – 3:45AM
All times are CST. NBC’s basketball channel will have all the games, and USA Network will begin broadcasting at 5:30 AM. NBC’s network daytime broadcast starts at 10AM and they may have at least a portion of the game, one would hope, especially if it’s a good game. The Olympics network won’t really stick with its plans to show men’s beach volleyball, will they? …
AUSTRALIA – RUSSIA GAME NOTES:
We have our answer r.e. the hubris of the Aussie coach Brian Goorjian. He’s apparently come to his senses (maybe Goorjian read the Bob Boozer jinx today). Bogut dominated Russia in the first half, starting and finishing strong, scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds. The Aussies lead at half, 49-33. They’ve led throughout, pushing it to 16 on some hot shooting by David Anderson at the end of the 1st quarter, early 2nd. Bogut was on the bench during that run, but returned when Russia cut it to 11. Five straight points in the post by Bogut extended the lead back to 14, and he muscled in the final two points of the half for a 16 point lead. Bogut played 15 mins in the half.
Unless there’s foul trouble, Bogut should get one break per 20 minute half, and clock at minimum 32 minutes a game. I’d play him 35. Bogut’s the one advantage the Aussies have over most teams in these Olympics – every team except China and Team USA. He should be on the court 80% of the time. It was asinine for Goorjian to try to prove otherwise or play it any other way.
Bogut’s 4/5 from the line, which would be a nice trend. He’s a 59% free throw shooter in the NBA, as bad as Dwight Howard. Russian center Aleksei Savraskeno had a good first half, and so did the Bulls’ Viktor Khryapa. Khrypa’s got 9 pts, 4 rebs at half; Savrasenko 12 pts, 10 in the first quarter until Australia fed Bogut and forced the 7′ 1″ center to the bench with fouls.
Other than the big men, the Russians are having problems. The point guard from Pittsburgh, John-Robert Holden (a guy with a pretty interesting story) shoots a lot but he’s not hitting. Neither is.Kirilenko.
The speedsert Patty Mills isn’t playing well for Aus but the other point guard, CJ Bruton is. He’s hit a couple of threes and has 8. Forwards David Anderson and Matt Nielson are also playing well. I don’t understand why the Aussies stick with center Chris Antsey. He’s a veteran, age 33, an Aussie basketball league MVP, etc. But he does next to nothing on the court … Bogut, Anderson and Nielson are all 6′ 11″ plus. Maybe this is at the heart of the Aus problem. It’s time NOW to transition to the younger guys, not in two years. Whether Goorjian wants to admit it or not, the games are here, and they count. Having your opponents drill home the need for transition in the middle of the Olympic games has looked awful and pathetic …and confused the players about their roles. Antsey’s only played five minutes this game, probably 2 too many. He’s backing up Bogut.
Bogut starts the half by hammering Kirilenko – “unsportsmanlike” foul. Good idea to keep Kirilenko from getting his game together. This sets off a 9-0 run by Russia, though, cutting the lead to seven points before Nielson finally scores to stop it. Bogut then pushes the lead back to ten with, believe it or not, a three-pointer!! What is he doing out there? He’s 1-2 from behind the arc for the game.
Ugly play – Khryapa blocks Bogut’s shot about five minutes in. Bruton hits a three. He’s got 11 now. Anderson’s got 11 but he’s in foul trouble (again) with three. So is Nielson (again). We’re at the point in the game where the refs may give the Russians a shot at getting back in the game. Bogut has Savrasenko in foul trouble.
61-48 – Bogut goes to the bench six minutes into the quarter, replaced by Antsey. Too short a run for Bogut. Antsey turns the ball over. Rus center Savrasenko comes in to try and take advantage of Bogut’s absence.
Russians can’t hit – Holden’s missed two threes and turned it over twice. …Antsey hits a three as I was writing about him. … 65-49 ..
Kirilenko’s still stuck on that one shot he hit. Russians finally hit a three, but it isn’t Holden or Kirilenko…. It was Vorontsevich, Andrei. They’ve fired quite a few in an effort to close the gap. Kirilenko misses another one. …
69-55. Holden and Kirilenko have hardly rested at all. The Australia D has been very good for the first time in the Olympics, and Holden and Kirilenko are shooting terribly, accounting for Australia’s big lead.
Bogut and CJ Bruton back in to start the quarter. Bruton opens with a three to push the lead to 17 – 72-55. Bruton has four threes in the game. Bogut had a quiet 3rd (just the three pointer) but the Aussies are going back to him now in the 4th. He missed his first two shots but hit the third.. Bruton misses, Bogut grabs the offensive board – Mills hits.. 78-62. Kirilenko goes to the bench, leaving Holden, Khryapa and Savrasenko. Australia’s playing their best lineup: Bogut, Bruton, Mills, Newley and Nielson … Russia can’t score.
THE DUNK: Bogut wheels in from the arc and throws down an Olympic sized jam over the defender (Vorontsevich again). And the foul! He’s got 19. 80-62 … What a statement! Russia gets Kirilenko back in the game w/ two others. Savrasenko’s out. Bogut misses the free throw. Next Aussie possession, Sergei Montya hacks Bruton – an unsportsmanlike, followed by a scrap with Nielson retaliating. Bogut steps into it too. The Russians are losing it. Bruton makes the free throws – 82-62. Three minutes into the quarter and the Aussies have outscored Russia 13-7. This is probably the game.
Bogut to the bench, Antsey in. Huh? It’s not over yet. The game’s getting chippy, but wouldn’t that be reason to leave him in? Aussies aren’t supposed to duck a potential broken nose. Maybe his arm’s numb from the dunk?
Khryapa hasn’t been a factor in the second half. He’s rebounding, but he hasn’t hit a bucket. Russia finally gets a hoop with 4 minutes left to make it 83-64. 14-7 for the Aussies in the first six mins of the 4th. Inside out game with Bogut, Bruton and Mills. Until that last hoop, nearly a three minute scorelss drought for the Russians – it killed them.
Holden hits a three w/ 2:40 left, cutting it to 12. Bogut’s still on the bench. Russians are on a 9-0 run. Goorjian puts Bogut back in after a Mills turnover.
Khryapa hits a three. Then another. It’s too late. Bruton and Nielson are hitting their free throws. Should be game barring some craziness. Rus could always employ the hack-a-bogut defense here.
.. BOGUT JUST HIT A THREE for the helluvit, as if the dunk wasn’t enough … Bruton sews it up with two free throws – he and Bogut finish with 22.
FINAL: Australia 95, Russia 80. Boxscore.
Bogut finishes with 22 pts, 8 rebs, 2 asts in 28 mins. Bruton also had 22 (4-8 on threes) and 6 asts. Viktor Khryapa led Russia with 21 pts, 9 rebs, on the strength of his three-pointer barrage in the last four mins of the game. Kirilenko was held to 6 pts on 1-10 shooting. Holden from Pittsburgh had 20 pts but shot 20 times to get it. Savrasenko had 16 in 19 mins but was invisible in the 2nd half due to foul trouble. I’d call that a win for Bogut (and Antsey), who neutralized the Russian big man.
Bogut’s 28 mins were easily the most he’s played in Beijing. That’s still not enough PT in a 40 minute game, especially with full two-minute rests at the quarters (NBA breaks are 90 secs.) Realistically, if he’s given breathers around those breaks, Bogut should play 32-33 minutes or more in a contested game. In this game, Bogut sat for 1/3 of the game until he reentered in the 4th after Khyrapa started hitting threes. Goorjian never should have taken him out of the game in the 4th. Is the coach obligated to find minutes for Antsey?
All that talk from Goorjian before the game about Bogut being “the future” of Aussie basketball, about other players defining the team’s success … I think Goorjian finally had little choice but to acknowledge that Bogut is the present of Australia basketball and that the Aussies needed to win a game NOW or go home. The team needed a big game out of Bogut and he delivered. It was the first time a big game had been asked of him, which probably explains why the Aussies are looking at a quarterfinal game against Team USA instead of Spain or Greece.
A difficult Olympics for Bogut: Goorjian seemed to use Bogut’s ankle injury (he rolled it July 31 against Angola) as an excuse to deemphasize Australia’s celebrity, $72-million-dollar contract, NBA “star” — who joined training late — and then try to make the unrealistic statemet that the team should be bigger than its best player. The Australia Boomers aren’t like the 2007-08 Bucks where it became very debatable as the season wore on who the best player was. Bogut is the man for Australia, and the reality is that Australia was only going as far as Bogut could take them. Perhaps Goorjian threw in the towel against Croatia and Argentina. Or maybe it was simply about playing Chris Antsey. Whatever the case, and it was probably a combination of all three, the coach foolishly rejected his star player until it was too late to salvage Australia’s medal hopes.
An interesting pose ….
That’s Russia’s Maria Stepanova boxing out Australia’s Lauren Jackson. Australia won the game.
Apparently, things got rough out there ….