The Extra Word on … Australia ‘tanking’ in FIBA World Cup

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Updated: September 10, 2014

Welcome to this regular TIW column, highlighting some of the stories and results that have caught the punting eye of editor-in-chief Sean Callander.

Australians are strange beasts when it comes to questions of credibility relating to their sporting heroes. There’s a deep-seeded mentality, driven by a parochial sporting media, that an indefinable Aussie sporting spirit drives our champions to success. They play the game fairly, earn the respect of their peers, display modesty in victory and humility in defeat. Performance-enhancing drugs? Match-fixing? No, no – that’s not the Australian way. Even if some poor Aussie sportsman or woman is dragged into such sordid activities, there’s always an excuse.

 

And the excuses are flying thick and fast after Australia’s 91-83 loss to Angola last week in the FIBA World Cup. You may not have heard or read about this game, and the fallout, as it’s hardly been back page news in the land Down Under. Here’s the outline – Australia had already qualified out of the group stage, so there was no risk of not advancing. On top of that, a loss would guarantee Australia would miss out on possibly playing the United States in the quarter-finals. Australia was favoured, but played many of their backups and lost to the African basketball minnows.

Angola’s victory also came after Australia had blown a double-digit lead in the second half by playing passive offense and totally neglectful defense. The result opened the door for Australia to fall to third place in the Group D standings, thereby delaying a potential match-up with tournament favourites USA. Had Australia remained in second place in Group D, it would have been on track to face USA in the tournament’s quarter-finals. By falling to third, Australia didn’t have to face USA until the semi-finals.

Goran Dragic, Phoenix’s All-NBA guard and star of the Slovenian national team, was first out of the stalls. He blasted Australia (3-2) for their unexpected loss to Angola (2-3), whose only previous victory had come against hapless South Korea (0-5). “Basketball is a beautiful sport,” Dragic wrote on Twitter. “There is no room for fixing the game like today Australia vs. Angola!! FIBA should do something about that!” Yesterday, FIBA confirmed that they would indeed investigate Australia’s conduct in that game.

Slovenia found itself directly impacted by Australia’s loss once Dragic and company lost to Lithuania later Thursday. Group D’s standings finished with Lithuania first and Slovenia second, setting up the Slovenians for a potential date with the Americans in the quarter-finals. Of course, Aussie Boomers coach Andrej Lemanis denied that Australia threw the game. “We always, as Australians, compete the right way,” he told the News Limited press. “People will make up their own minds. There’s always going to be speculators. I can’t control what people think.”

 

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Australian basketball icon Andrew Gaze (pictured above) was quick to mount the soapbox for his take, via his morning stint on Melbourne sports radio station SEN: “Here are some indisputable facts – Aron Baynes was having injections into his knee in order to participate so they decided in a game that meant nothing to rest him. Joe Ingles has been carrying a load and some wear and tear and he just needed to lighten the load so they gave him a rest. The other players playing in the game were playing to win. I’m telling you I will be gutted and there should be people fired if they intentionally tanked. I stand by that but I see this as player management, not tanking,” Gaze said.

This kind of activity doesn’t fall into the hard and fast category of match-fixing. It resides in the murky grey area of “tanking”. It’s far from uncommon to see NBA sides, for example, strategically resting players late in the season in an effort to influence draft lottery odds or produce a more favourable post-season match-up. Are sidelined players actually injured or are they being rested, because they are too talented? Is there a meaningful difference between making a concerted effort to develop younger players and losing on purpose? Oh yeh, check out this past Extra Word column relating to tanking in Australia’s national football code.

But what happened between Australia and Angola was hardly grey. Despite resting two key players (the aforementioned Baynes and Ingles) and barely playing two others (Matthew Dellavedova and David Andersen), Australia’s second-stringers easily held a 60-45 lead with three minutes left in the third quarter. That’s when the craziness began, as the Aussies barely flinched while conceding a 20-5 run that allowed Angola to tie the game. The contest remained close until the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter, when Australia literally watched Angola go on an 8-0 run to put away the game.

 

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Gaze (who also serves on the board of Basketball Australia) and Lemanis (pictured above) are hardly impartial sources, so we asked a former NBL and national basketball player for his take on the game. “There looked to be three elements to Australia’s formula for blowing its lead – allow as many high-percentage shots as possible on defense, settle for deep jumpers on offense and mix in just enough scoring in hopes that no one would ask any questions,” was his general assessment. Here’s a rundown of how the closing minutes of the third quarter played out during an 18-5 run for Angola:

Angola

• Uncontested dunk, SCORE
• Uncontested lay-up, SCORE
• Uncontested lay-up, SCORE
• Marginally contested lay-up, SCORE
• Point blank offensive rebound, SCORE + foul
• Wide-open three-pointer, SCORE
• Uncontested lay-up, SCORE
•  Uncontested dunk, SCORE

Australia

• Contested long-range two-pointer, MISS
• Contested three-pointer, MISS
• Three-pointer from the corner, SCORE
• Wide-open lay-up, MISS
• Wide-open lay-up, SCORE
• Marginally contested three-pointer, MISS
• Fall-away three-pointer, MISS

Bizarrely, Lemanis did not use a timeout, even though his team blew a double-digit lead and made zero stops while conceding 18 Angola points on just eight possessions. By comparison, Angola had managed only 12 points in the entire second quarter. We couldn’t believe out eyes when Brock Motum missed a deep three-pointer just seconds into one play, then allowed an uncontested dunk in transition behind him. The damning evidence continued through the fourth quarter.

• Angolan big man Yanick Moreira finished with a game-high 38 points and 15 rebounds. Of note, Moreira, who was averaging 12.8 points per game in the tournament entering this match-up, scored 34 of his points during the second half. “He’s dunked it so many times in this second half that the basket might need to be readjusted and put back in its place,” one FIBA commentator noted.

• A pass, combined with non-existent transition defense from Chris Goulding led to another dunk for Angola.

• Multiple Australian players watched from well outside the basket area without moving into rebounding position as Eduardo Mingas scored with ease.

• An uncontested lay-up off the dribble by Roberto Fortes, who blew past the defense with ease.

• Another uncontested lay-up that was converted only after Milton Barros missed his own uncontested layup.

• Australia opted not to immediately foul on two occasions, even though they were trailing by just four points with a little over a minute to play.

• Australia did eventually foul, but then failed to grab the defensive rebound on the second missed free throw, even though only one Angolan player made an attempt to rebound against three opponents.

Our case is closed.

 

Footnote: Of course, the Australians would lose 65-64 to Turkey in their last 16 clash on Monday (AET) to crash out of the tournament as FIBA announced they had launched an investigation into Australia’s performance against Angola. “The on-court behaviour displayed by Australia in that game (against Angola) generated huge disappointment by basketball fans and experts. It is widely suspected that Australia lost that game in order to avoid having to face the reigning world champions USA until the semi-finals,” it was stated by FIBA. Basketball Australia responded by categorically rejecting any suggestion that the Australian Boomers were a party to contriving the result. “And let us be extremely clear on this point: we, as Australians, always compete the right way.  The Australian Boomers are renowned for their tenacity, competitiveness and hunger to win,” Basketball Australia stated.

 

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