First thing’s first. Slovenia beat Australia in a sensational win Friday 91-80, pushing the contending Boomers out of the tournament with team play, defense and confidence.
Australia had somewhat of a collapse Friday, and never recovered from trailing from the start. Not once did they take the lead, not once did they show the hustle, connection and confidence that it takes to win on this level. Surprisingly, they did not have what it takes to beat this Slovenian team today.
This despite having 10 NBA players vs. Slovenia’s one. Despite being among the favorites, showing great play in the First Round, 20 year old Josh Giddey fighting until the end and new Maverick Dante Exum with some great plays.
Despite Luka Doncic being in foul trouble already in the second quarter, having to sit out earlier and more than usual. But that didn’t matter to this team, they kept playing, Aleksej Nikolic and Klemen Prepelic making great plays, everybody on point on defense and winning the rebound battle - and Mike Tobey stepping up as the top Slovenia performer with 18 points, 12 rebounds and six assists.
This was a team win, as testimony to chemistry and belief in each other. Proof that talent on paper doesn’t always translate into superior play. This was everything real basketball fans love about the game and it was executed perfectly, heart and hustle prevailing.
Luka Doncic did not carry this team today, he was a great leader and was locked in with the rest of the team on defense, controlling the pace and offense as only he can, with 19 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. But this was a team effort and it was a team win. One of the finest I’ve seen in a long time.
Germany up next
The game Sunday against Germany matters less now, because Slovenia are through to the quarterfinal after this win and three wins in the First Round.
Germany are also through, as well as Lithuania and Team USA. That makes this matchup less important, but still worth mentioning, because the points scored and winner will count in who their opponents will be in the quarterfinal and knockout stage.
Germany vs. Slovenia is a formidable matchup, however, and it will still be an interesting game, where the two teams have a chance to get battletested and try out new things.
Germany has been on a roll this World Cup, and despite losing their star, guard Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic), in the first round, they still managed to enter the Second Round undefeated. The Germans are hopeful, however, that Franz Wagner will return soon, and that’s something to watch.
The Germans have been playing team basketball on a high level, with Dennis Schröder playing up to the best we’ve seen from him, averaging almost 19 points, and Mo Wagner stepping up and leading the way with an average of 17 points and five rebounds. The big man is the team’s emotional leader, according to his brother Franz, and you notice that on the floor, when Mo cheers his teammates on and hustles on every possession.
Germany plays much bigger than Slovenia, who are missing two wing players and lack size in the paint. Once again, Slovenia has to play to their strengths and try to set the pace to control this game. Luka Doncic is one of the best at reading the defense, seeing what the opponent throws at him, and then reacting to it to create an advantage.
But Slovenia’s dominating performance against a favorite and contender in Australia shows that Slovenia has the potential to beat just about anybody. If they go about it with heart and hustle, trusting each other and connect on defense, they can add something that no other team has: Luka Doncic. And at this point, Luka plus this type of team play looks like a winning recipe.