THE Boomers return from the Rio Olympics empty-handed after Spanish superstar Pau Gasol scored 31 points to lead his side to a nail-biting 89 – 88 victory that came down to the last possession of the game late last night.
The lead changed hands 13 times in the final quarter before Spain scored the decisive points through a pair of Sergio Rodriguez free throws after a controversial blocking foul call on Patty Mills.
Australia got the ball back with 5.4 seconds to play and immediately called a timeout but a botched pass prevented the Boomers from getting off a shot that could have secured the nation’s first basketball bronze.
Australia struggled to contain Spanish big men Gasol and Nikola Mirotic in the early going, the pair combining for 16 first quarter points as Spain established a 23 – 17 lead at the first break.
Two days after managing just four of 31 from beyond the arc the Boomers again struggled to sink triples early and Spain also did a good job of preventing dangerous guards Mills and Matthew Dellavedova from finding a path to the basket.
The Boomers offensive rhythm was further upset by Dellavedova heading to the bench just five minutes into the first quarter after picking up two quick fouls.
That brought Damian Martin into the fray and the Perth Wildcats’ captain provided a nice highlight with a beautiful pass to David Andersen underneath the bucket for an easy two.
It was to be his only contribution to the game in just under three minutes of court time.
At the other end of the court, with the Boomers preoccupied with containing Gasol, Spain had fewer issues penetrating into the paint, often kicking the ball out at the last moment to create an open triple.
With two and a half minutes left in the second quarter Australia trailed 40 – 28 but finally found their range from beyond the arc through consecutive threes to Mill and Andersen, part of a 10 point run that cut the deficit to just two at half-time.
Andrew Bogut fouled out of the game just two minutes into the third quarter but that did not stop the Boomers from going basket for basket with Spain throughout the term – Mills leading the way with 13 points but nicely complemented by Brock Motum who chipped in with six.
Motum took centre stage in the final quarter with a powerful one-handed dunk through traffic to tie the game at 70 – 70, energising the Boomers who fought tooth and nail the rest of the way but ultimately came up just short.
Turnovers again played a part in Australia’s demise, the Boomers coughing the ball up 15 times compared to Spain’s seven.
Mills finished with 30 points and three steals while Andersen had 15 points and five rebounds.