The United States and the Australian Boomers wrapped the first of two exhibitions in preparation for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup in front of over 50,000 fans on Thursday in Melbourne, with Team USA earning a 16-point win over the hosts.
Boston Celtics point guard Kemba Walker led the way with a game-high 23 points (on 9-22 shooting) to go along with six rebounds. Walker was one of six Americans to finish the game in double figures - among them was Indiana Pacers centre Myles Turner, who recorded a 15-point, 14-rebound double-double in under 19 minutes of action.
San Antonio Spurs guard Patty Mills and Chris Goulding of the NBL's Melbourne United each led the way for Australia with a team-high 19 points. While the numbers were there for Mills, the efficiency wasn't; he finished the game shooting 6-for-16 from the field including 3-for-10 from beyond the arc.
For more on how the exhibition unfolded, here are some takeaways from the game…
USA's second-half surge
In the first half, each team went on respective runs, with Team USA leading by as many as 11 points, but Australia would respond to cut the deficit to one point at the break. The Boomers' run extended into the second half as they took a one-point lead less than a minute into the third quarter.
It would be their final lead of the game.
Team USA responded, closing the third quarter by outscoring Australia 32-16 from that point. Such was the story for the remainder of the second half.
Walker was the catalyst of the second-half surge as he scored 21 points in the half after scoring just two points in the first.
👀 @KembaWalker drops 23 PTS to propel @usabasketball to the exhibition victory over @BasketballAus in Melbourne! #USABMNT #USAGotGame pic.twitter.com/wYSmJK0pS2- NBA (@NBA) August 22, 2019
As a team, the USA shot 23-for-41 (56.1%) in the second half after shooting 40.9% in the first.
It wasn't just on offence either. The United States defence made things difficult for Australia throughout the second half. Team USA forced seven turnovers in the third quarter and held the Boomers to 13-for-33 (39.4%) shooting in the final two periods.
A rise in intensity from the Americans coupled with the Boomers' loss of rhythm resulted in such a stark contrast between halves.
Battle of the boards
Simply put, Team USA dominated the boards in Thursday's win.
Led by Turner's 14 rebounds, the US National Team outrebounded the Boomers 54-36 for the game. After Turner, both Walker and Jaylen Brown grabbed six rebounds apiece while Australia's leading rebounder was big man Jock Landale, who grabbed seven boards in the game.
Perhaps the most eye-popping rebounding figure from Thursday is Team USA's 16 offensive boards that resulted in 16 second-chance points. Turner and Walker again stood out in this category, grabbing three offensive rebounds apiece to extend possessions and provide more scoring opportunities.
While athleticism and size are big factors in rebounding, Walker's impact on the glass shows that it ultimately boils down to effort. For Australia moving forward, it must look to use its size - and effort - to limit teams from earning so many opportunities from offensive rebounding.
The absence of Jonah Bolden is felt on the boards, meaning it is even more crucial for Aron Baynes, Andrew Bogut and Landale to impose their will with their size to make their mark as rebounders. That will be a crucial component for this team's aspirations to medal in China.
Run it back
Perhaps the biggest - and most important - takeaway from Thursday is that this game is an exhibition and these two teams will meet again in less than 48 hours.
While Team USA emerged victoriously, their efforts were far from perfect as players expressed a number of things that can be improved upon as they continue their preparation for China. The same holds true for the Boomers, as some of their areas for improvement have been outlined above.
For both teams, the opportunity to face such high-level competition is great in that they are provided a challenge outside of intrasquad scrimmages and gain a greater understanding of what needs to be tuned up as they look to attain their goals once the actual tournament begins in China.
Running things back on Saturday means that these teams will get a direct opportunity to improve upon their weaknesses from Thursday against the same opponent that caused said problems.
It's the ideal tune-up for what is sure to be a challenging field at the World Cup.
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