The Boomers face their biggest test yet when they take on Team USA for a place in the gold medal match in Tokyo.
Today’s semi-final starts at 2.15pm (AEST).
Australia has looked better every time it stepped onto the floor this tournament. Some patchy performances to open up the pool stage were followed by a more clinical victory over Germany, then a stunning fourth-quarter blitz put the exclamation point on their defeat of Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Aussie basketball fans may have been hoping not to face the might of America until the final but Patty Mills and Co. know they have to beat the best whenever the challenge arises to pick up the Boomers’ first ever Olympic medal.
Having played for bronze without success at four previous Olympics, Australia will be desperately hoping for a win today to guarantee a maiden appearance on the podium.
They’ll draw confidence from their upset of the US in an exhibition game before leaving for Japan last month, which sparked panic in the States. The 91-83 defeat was Team USA’s second loss in as many games after also losing to Nigeria, and American basketball pundits’ worst fears started to materialise when Kevin Durant’s men dropped their first game of the Olympics to France.
But there have been no hiccups since and the Americans are still heavy favourites to advance to the final, having qualified for the semis with a 95-81 win over Spain.
Mills, at his fourth Olympics, believes the time is right to snap Australia’s painful medal drought.
“We’re well experienced,” he said when asked why this Australian team could do what no other had managed.
“We’ve been to this stage many a time and haven’t crossed the line. But we’ve bottled those experiences up, and I think we’re well prepared for this moment and for this stage to make the next step.
“There’s a togetherness and a camaraderie within the extended group and a focus that is sharp on what we’re trying to achieve here.
“And that collective unit together, it’s powerful. It’s a culture thing, it’s an Australian spirit thing, it’s doing it for the greater good, and we understand who we’re doing it for.”
Fellow Aussie veteran Joe Ingles, also at his fourth Olympics, said winning gold was the only thing that mattered.
“We’ve had one goal in mind, to win a gold medal and leave here with that, and this is a little bit of a stepping stone to what we want to achieve,” Ingles said after the Argentina win.
“We’ll rest up, recover and watch the film and we’re obviously well aware of who we’re against (USA). The biggest thing for us now is the recovery side of it.”
Today’s clash will bring Mills up against his long-time San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, but friendships will be put aside.
“He’s obviously meant a great deal to me for a very long time, a decade. It’s fair to say he’s helped shape me to who I am today, on the court and off the court,” said Mills.
“When you get to this situation, and we’re both representing our country, which we’re both so passionate about, it’s a great opportunity. This is the Olympic Games and there’s no greater opportunity to represent your country than this.”