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How the Boomers won a brutal chess game vs. Lithuania

Disregard an exhibition series against Team USA. Disregard a first-up, almost must-win game against Group rivals Canada. The test — the real test — for the Boomers’ medal credentials was always going to hinge on a confrontation with historical rivals, Lithuania.

Consider the stakes: actual tournament play, a grind-it-out style that would test the Australians, a surging opponent backed by a frenetic, roaring, travelling band of supporters (and their drums) and media alike. Both will travel to Nanjing — this was confirmed days ago — but the winner of this vaunted Group H clash would have more than just bragging rights within this storied rivalry.

“They’re great in their sets – they’ve got winks on blinks on counters,” said Boomers assistant coach Luc Longley, a few days ago. “They’ve got enough bigs to be a problem inside. They’ve got enough shooting. They’re just a very good basketball team — well organised, well disciplined, and they care a lot.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

“Obviously, got the bigs inside, big, physical bigs,” said Matthew Dellavedova. “But I think [they’re] a very even team — a lot of perimeter and wing scoring as well.”6

Boomers power forward David Barlow explained to ESPN that the level of detail has been astounding when it came to preparation for their bodies, their schemes, their opponents.

The Boomers have been fully aware of the potential permutations and competition mechanisms which have ensured that every game, every point, means so much in the this tournament.

Weaver described the challenges in-game adjustments, of reading and reacting to what Lithuania would throw at them, in the manner of a high-level chess game. To win, the Boomers would need to solve those puzzles deep in the trenches.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Shortcomings are amplified in the cauldron of a tournament, and within the company of elite competition. In Lithuania, the Boomers found a creditable puzzle to solve, as they survived a blistering second-half rally to win 87-82, and carry a precious one-game advantage into the second round of group play.

Allowing offensive rebounding, and the subsequent second-chance opportunities, was a sore spot for the Boomers against Senegal. The twin towers of Memphis Grizzlies big man Jonas Valanciunas and the Indiana Pacers’ Domantas Sabonis have been bulwarks in this tournament, bludgeoning their opponents on the glass. They would be an imposing frontline.

Lithuania averaged a staggering 15 o-boards (and 16 second-chance points) over their first two matches. A point of emphasis had to be to keep the likes of Valanciunas and Sabonis from beasting the offensive glass. In an amped up Aron Baynes, they met their beefy match, the Boomers centre barging his way to every defensive rebound available, setting the tone on the glass, particularly with Andrew Bogut plagued by foul trouble.

The Boomers and Lithuania: A rivalry forged over two decades

The intertwined histories of the Boomers and the Lithuanian national team in major tournaments is perhaps summed up with a nod and a smile.

Mark Bradtke, legendary Boomer (and now team manager), recalls sitting one row behind Lithuanian basketball royalty, the great Arvydas Sabonis, at the FIBA World Cup draw in Shenzhen, back on a Saturday evening in March.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Once it was confirmed that the Boomers would indeed be drawn with Lithuania in Group H, Sabonis would turn to Bradtke, and shake his head in tacit understanding: oh, we’re back at it again.

“They understand the significance as well as us,” says Bradtke. “It’s just another chapter in the history of Australia versus Lithuania.”

This rivalry, perhaps the Boomers’ greatest in international basketball, has been largely forged through the Summer Games.

“Unfortunately, most of my memories of Lithuania on the court are bad,” says Luc Longley.5

In their first Olympics since regaining independence, in Barcelona 1992, Lithuania defeated the Australians in their final group encounter, relegating the Boomers to third in their group, and a dreaded crossover quarter-final matchup with eventual silver medallists, Croatia. Croatia would ultimately bundle out the Australians.

Mitch Creek was 3 months old when Lithuania would advance through to the bronze medal game in Barcelona and win an historic medal.

“I didn’t get to see it when I was really young,” he says of the seemingly inevitable clashes between these two sides in three straight Olympics. “For me, it was more like the archives, watching the VHS tapes, watching footage online, and watching those battles play out.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Four years later at Atlanta, a surging Boomers team would encounter Lithuania once again, this time in the bronze medal game. In a tense and torrid affair, the Baltic Giants would once again prevail, behind the dominance of their Hall of Fame centre, Sabonis, to win a second consequence medal, and deny the Boomers their first.

“I know the year that I didn’t play, Atlanta, because I had an ankle clean-up, [Arvydas] Sabonis hurt them in the bronze game when they came fourth that year as well,” recalls Longley.

“He was slowing down a bit there, but extremely talented, would shoot the three-ball back then,” says Bradtke, who had the onerous task of playing against one of the greatest ever centres. “[He was] a really good passer, and they had awesome shooters around him as well. It was a tough cover for all teams. He was my biggest challenge in opponent and he got the better of me every single time.”

At the FIBA World Cup, Argentina steps into the shadow of their golden generation

When Manu Ginobili and Andres Nocioni embraced after Argentina’s loss to Team USA in the basketball quarterfinals at the 2016 Rio Olympics, it spelled the end of an era. The success on the international stage that peaked with a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics gave way to a new crop of players, tasked with continuing the legacy of the most prolific generation in the history of South American basketball.

Luis Scola, 39, was part of that golden generation and remains as much on the current national team that takes the floor in China at the 2019 FIBA World Cup. A key figure, Scola embraced the incoming crop of players one by one. And in that passing of the torch, Facundo Campazzo, a point guard for Real Madrid in Spain’s Liga ACB, stepped up.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

Work, dedication, humility and conviction are the four pillars that depict the Argentine national team, one that reached its zenith in the era when Manu had flowing locks and regularly dunked and now survives with Ginobili bald and retired. Argentina, simply put, is a team that lacks the marquee names.6

Wednesday marked the 15th anniversary of Argentina’s Olympic gold in Athens. That magical title was their most notable achievement. There were others: silver at the 2002 FIBA World Championships in Indianapolis, and two wins over the Dream Team, albeit a diminished one. But their most relevant accomplishment was laying the foundation of concepts that have enabled the team to find its finest version with the available talent. Stars may shine with their respective teams, but then may disappoint on their national teams. In basketball, Argentina has managed to do the opposite: Their players deliver their best performances in that sky-blue and white jersey. That’s the legacy of that wonderful team and a product of what then-national team coach Ruben Magnano and his staff imprinted on their players.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“We are done talking about the golden generation. We admire them, we love them, they are our role models,” said Argentina coach Sergio Hernandez. “We are here because we saw them and followed their footsteps, but they have become part of our history. We don’t want to be compared with anyone.”

There is nothing to suggest that Argentina will achieve that seemingly surreal success at the 2019 World Cup in China. The golden generation had more than two elite players at every position. That is not the case with the current team.

This is Donovan Mitchell’s moment

Watching Gregg Popovich work is one of the joys of being around Team USA.

During the NBA season when he’s in San Antonio he builds walls, actual and figurative, that purposely shield nuance. It’s understandable because it’s a competitive game, and Popovich, while often gregarious, prefers privacy.

But it’s also unfortunate, because it’s in those moments when Popovich becomes “Pop.”nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

In this setting with the national team, though, there are fewer barriers. There’s less time and less attachment. These players aren’t bound by contract, and in this scenario Popovich needs short-term buy-in more than the players need to give it.

It opens some windows into the revelatory Popovich stuff, and it’s happening in China as the U.S. gets ready to start the FIBA World Cup on Sunday when it takes on Czech Republic (ESPN+, 8:30 am ET).5

Over the last month, a beneficiary of this situation appears to be Donovan Mitchell. And because of that, these could end up being transformative weeks for the Utah Jazz star.

He’s getting some special attention from Popovich, who needs Mitchell to be great for Team USA to win gold. But there’s another reason, and this is what the whole point is.

“When you tap somebody that has leadership ability, it’s better to start it sooner,” Popovich explained this week. “The quicker you make them feel responsible that they can do that, the better. Then if that person grabs onto it then you know you chose the right guy.”

This is the Popovich sauce, in this case a pearl about how to cultivate a young player by giving more trust. It actually follows a Popovich method, which is to buck the norm. You can see it in those sideline interviews he’s famous for. Come at him soft and he’ll often come back hard. Come hard and he’ll often go soft, keeping everyone off-balance.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

It goes against conventional wisdom that on a Team USA squad with a number of established veterans like Kemba Walker, Khris Middleton, Harrison Barnes, Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee, that Popovich would guide one of the youngest into a leading voice.

But here the old master is working, it’s the 22-year-old Mitchell who he’s entrusting to guide this important enterprise. Popovich seems to see the leadership qualities in Mitchell that Jazz leadership and his Utah teammates have talked about for the last two years.

Man United held to draw by 10-man Saints

Manchester United’s patchy start to the Premier League season continued with a 1-1 draw at 10-man Southampton after a Jannik Vestergaard header cancelled out a brilliant Daniel James goal for the visitors on Saturday.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

The result left United on five points from four games after last weekend’s shock 2-1 home defeat by Crystal Palace while Southampton, who stretched their winless league streak at home against United to nine games, have four points.

Wales winger James, signed from Swansea City during the close season, netted the third goal of his United career with a 10th-minute rocket into the top corner which gave Saints keeper Angus Gunn no chance.4

The visitors dominated the opening half and livewire James forced a reflex save from Gunn with another piledriver from 20 metres midway through the first half after Marcus Rashford had headed well wide from close range.

But United faded after the break and Vestergaard equalised in the 58th minute when he rose above Victor Lindelof to head home emphatically a Kevin Danso cross from the right after visiting keeper David De Gea had saved a Danny Ings effort.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

The home side were forced to hang on in the closing stages after Danso was sent off in the 73rd minute for a second bookable foul when he hacked down Scott McTominay, with Gunn denying Rashford and substitute Mason Greenwood.

Andrew Bogut revels in victory over Team USA

Those four simple words were Andrew Bogut’s typically wry reaction after Australia’s history-making win against Team USA in the second of their two-game exhibition series at Marvel Stadium.

Speaking minutes after the Boomers’ 98-94 victory in front of a 52,079 capacity crowd, Bogut said the performance was one of the highlights of his illustrious career. The Boomers big man also signalled that the victory was a huge moment for the psyche of Australian men’s basketball, with the team — world basketball’s longtime bridesmaids — now firmly believing they can beat anyone they lock horns with.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

“[That was] huge for us,” he said. “It’s a friendly, so we want to keep that in context, but we did create history tonight — the first senior Australian men’s team to beat an American team. I was fortunate enough to do it in juniors so I told the boys, ‘welcome to the club.'”

The 34-year-old said Australia’s growing presence in the NBA was starting to pay dividends on the national stage, admitting some players were previously “starstruck” against the best players in the world. He added Saturday’s win over Team USA would be a turning point among the group.5

“We feel like we can beat anyone in the world … this [is] the first time I’ve felt that with the Boomers. In the past, we’d be going to an Olympics or Worlds and not so much making up the numbers but [thinking], ‘We’ll give it a fair shot and what happens, happens.’

“We were competitive in the past but it wasn’t like we were [thinking], ‘We’re trying to win a gold medal and beat anyone we come across’ and I think this group genuinely has that belief. And I think a lot of that comes from having guys in this squad who are playing with those Team USA guys on a nightly basis [in the NBA] and not just warming the bench, but playing against them. In the past we have had guys who were a little starstruck about playing against [the big names], but that’s not the right mindset.”

Boomers teammate Chris Goulding, who starred in Game 1 before a quieter outing on Saturday, was pinching himself after the win. But he was also trying to retain perspective with the World Cup only a week away.cheap nfl jerseys china nike

“It was a great day for Australian basketball,” he said. “We feel like we’re starting to play to our potential, but I think we can play even better, which is so exciting.

“We wanted to enjoy it and make sure the crowd enjoyed it but we have bigger goals — to keep it [the excitement] under wraps and use it as a stepping-stone and hopefully be better again … and if we have to play [Team USA] again, we’ll be ready.”

The two-game exhibition series didn’t come without its controversies, with stars withdrawing from both squads, and ticketing and seating issues at the venue, but Bogut and star teammate Patty Mills — the matchwinner for the Boomers in Game 2 — were both thrilled at the growth of basketball in Australia.

“We just had 52,000 people twice come to a football stadium for a game of basketball — if someone would have told me that five or six years ago, it just wouldn’t happen,” the Melbourne-born veteran said. “On top of that, we won, so I’ve never seen basketball at this height in this country. I couldn’t be prouder to be an Australian basketballer right now. To win a game against the USA in my home city is something I never would have thought was realistic as a kid … to beat them is a whole other ballgame.

Australia stuns Team USA, snaps 78-game streak

For the first time in nearly 13 years, a U.S. roster of NBA players played an international game — and lost. Patty Mills scored 30 points, and Australia rallied from a 10-point deficit in the second half to stun the Americans 98-94 and snap a 78-game U.S. winning streak that started with the bronze-medal game at the 2006 world championships.

“They wanted it more than us tonight,” U.S. guard Kemba Walker said. “Lesson learned for us.”

It was the first loss for the U.S. in a major international tournament or exhibition since the 2006 world championship semifinals against Greece. The Americans won the bronze there, then were unbeaten through the cycles for the 2007 FIBA Americas, 2008 Olympics, 2010 World Cup, 2012 Olympics, 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.

Add all that up, along with wins over Spain and Australia with this team, and it was a 78-game winning streak for the U.S. — the longest in program history.

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“It was awesome,” Mills said.6

Australia had never beaten the Americans, and the U.S. national team had been 30-0 all time in Australia.

“Some of it is expected with a new group that’s trying to learn about each other and learn a system,” U.S. coach Gregg Popovich said. “So it’s not surprising. But the Aussies gave us a great lesson as far as where we want to be and how you have to play in this kind of a competition.”

A World Cup where Serbia has already made very clear it expects to win gold, where NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo will lead Greece, where France figures to have a medal shot and now with the Australians absolutely knowing they can beat the U.S. will begin next week with no shortage of realistic title hopefuls.

USA Basketball is No. 1 in FIBA’s world rankings, but so far in the run-up to this World Cup — with most of the top NBA stars deciding to not play this summer — the Americans have not looked like a lock for more gold. They beat Spain by nine in Anaheim, California, on Aug. 16, needed a big second half to defeat Australia by 16 on Thursday, and then let a sizable second-half lead slip away Saturday.

“Obviously, this was a great step for us,” Australia guard Joe Ingles said.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Mills plays for San Antonio, so ordinarily Popovich — the longtime Spurs coach — would enjoy seeing what the veteran guard did down the stretch. Mills scored Australia’s last 10 points, doing it all from banking in 3-pointers to slicing through for a layup that put the hosts up by six with 1:50 left.

“As I told you all after the last game, Patty’s a pain,” Popovich said.

Walker scored 22 points for the U.S., while Harrison Barnes had 20. Donovan Mitchell’s 3-pointer with 1:05 left got the U.S. to within 97-94. The Americans then forced a stop on the ensuing possession and had two chances to tie — but Mitchell’s 3-pointer was off, Joe Harris missed a corner 3 a few seconds later and Mills iced the game with a free throw.

Aron Baynes left the floor with his head back, screaming in celebration as he slapped hands with delirious countrymen. Ingles and Andrew Bogut grabbed their kids and brought them onto the floor for a look.

Ben Simmons will probably beat you one-on-one — in video games

When asked about his love of video games, Philadelphia 76ers star Ben Simmons pulls out his phone and flips through a gallery of photos. After a bit of perusing, he stops on the picture he was attempting to find, an older, sepia-tone one contrasting with his state-of-the-art smartphone.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

In the snapshot, an adolescent Simmons lounges in an Australian living room, playing video games on a lazy day, with close friend and fellow future NBA player Dante Exum sitting beside him.

my whole life,” Simmons says. “The first game I really got into was Resistance for Playstation. That was the shooter I played. And then from there I started playing Call of Duty, picked all those up and eventually got into PC gaming a little later [with Counter-Strike], PUBG, a little bit of Fortnite — not too much Fortnite, because I’m not into building stuff. It’s too much.”

With a new generation of stars like Simmons entering the NBA, video gaming culture has permeated the league alongside these stars. What once would have seemed uncool to bring up in the locker room has become standard talk between teammates and friends, with arguments sometimes settled through video games. Nowadays, players throughout the NBA stay connected by gaming together online and even creating leagues in games such as Madden and NBA 2K where they can compete regularly against each other.

While some players lug their consoles onto planes or set them up as a fixture in the clubhouse, Simmons primarily plays on a PC, a convert from his younger days of playing on the Playstation and Xbox.6

“I used to be console [player], but PC is much easier,” Simmons says. “Every game is right there, you can log on and everything is much easier.”

Growing up in Australia, Simmons was just like any other kid fascinated with games, consuming Call of Duty content from the top players and entertainers on YouTube, such as Optic’s Hector “H3CZ” Rodriguez. Since moving to America and reaching the NBA, he has gotten to know and grown close to H3CZ and Thomas “Temperrr” Oliveira, the co-founder of FaZe Clan.

Simmons’ game of choice nowadays is PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, which is why he is spending some time in Los Angeles this offseason while competing in PUBG Mobile’s Team Up Superstar Showdown. Although this version of PUBG is played on a mobile device, Simmons has had few problems adjusting, defeating every other NBA player he has faced and capping the event off by defeating a team captained by Eastern Conference rival and reigning NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

Before leaving the venue, Simmons even razzes the MVP as Antetokounmpo is conducting an interview, reminding him that while the Milwaukee Bucks star might have gotten the edge against the 76ers on the court this year, he got the last laugh … at least, in the world of video games.

Simmons doesn’t just talk trash with NBA rivals, but with his own teammates too. In the hierarchy of gamers in the 76ers locker room, Simmons notes that there is only one other teammate who can keep up with him in terms of gameplay and trash talk — Joel Embiid.

“If you put me on PC, I’ll destroy him,” Simmons says. “He plays FIFA. I can beat him in FIFA. Here’s the thing: I don’t play FIFA, but I’ve beaten him in a game of FIFA. I can play any game.”

After doubts, Melo confident he wants to play

Carmelo Anthony says the end of his tenure with the Houston Rockets made him question whether he still wanted to play in the NBA.

“I felt like the game didn’t want me back at that point in time,” Anthony told ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith on First Take, referring to a period in which he described himself as being “emotionally vulnerable.”cheap nike nfl jerseys china

Now, Anthony says, the passion to play is back.

“I’m in the gym every single day,” Anthony said. He also noted that “silence is not my surrender” and that he has been quiet until now because he felt like he needed to step away from the game to “reevaluate myself, reevaluate my career, reevaluate my life.”5

Anthony, a 10-time All-Star and six-time All-NBA player, last suited up for the Rockets for a 10-game stint that ended early in the 2018 season.nfl nike jersey cheap

He said he doesn’t blame friend Chris Paul or even two-time former coach Mike D’Antoni and said he never had a conversation with James Harden about his Rockets exit.

Anthony said being told by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey that he was being let go was a shock.

“He came in and basically said, ‘Look, your services are no longer needed,'” Anthony said of his conversation with Morey. “I was like, ‘What? Hold up. What the hell are you talking about? … You telling me I can’t make a 9-, 10-man rotation on this team?'”

Anthony said of his conversation with Morey that he “didn’t like how that went down” and that it caused him to have doubts about himself.

“That was an ego hit. That was a pride hit,” Anthony said. “I started questioning myself after that. Can I still do this? What did I do? I asked him this. … He just said it wasn’t working out.

“When somebody in power that tells you that they no longer need your services … I’ve been utilizing my services for a long time. For you to tell me you don’t need that no more. I honestly felt that I was fired. I felt like [what] other people go through on a day-to-day basis. People get fired. I honestly felt like I got fired.”

Pistons claim F-C Christian Wood off waivers

The Detroit Pistons have claimed Christian Wood off waivers.

The Pistons announced the move Wednesday. The 6-foot-10 Wood appeared in 21 games last season for Milwaukee and New Orleans, averaging 8.2 points. He’s averaged 5.3 points in 51 career NBA games for Philadelphia, Charlotte, Milwaukee and New Orleans.3

Wood, who can play forward or center, averaged nearly 17 points and eight rebounds during the eight games he played for New Orleans at the end of last season, but he was still waived by the Pelicans.