NBA stalwart Patty Mills says Australia have bottled up all their previous Olympic failures and plan to let them loose against the United States in their crunch basketball semi-final on Thursday.
The world’s third-ranked team, known as the “Boomers”, have been trying to finish on the Olympic podium since the Melbourne Games in 1956 but have yet to make it despite contesting the bronze medal match four times.
That is despite boasting some of the best players in the world, playing in the top leagues.
But San Antonio Spurs’ Mills, at his fourth Olympics, believes the time is now right to snap the run, despite needing to beat the Kevin Durant-led three-time defending champions to stay on track.
“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,” he added.
“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.”
They may never have a better chance, with the USA showing signs of weakness, crashing to defeat in two exhibition games in the lead-up to the Olympics, including a 91-83 loss to the Boomers.
Rest and recover
Gregg Popovich’s team then fell in their Tokyo opener to France – their first defeat at an Olympics since 2004 – before finding their groove, culminating with a battling 95-83 win against Spain to set up the Australia clash.
In contrast, the undefeated Boomers have looked sharp, and ruthlessly dismantled Argentina 97-59 in their quarter-final, with Mills topping the stat sheets with 18 points and four assists.
Fellow 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,” said the Utah Jazz forward 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.”
Thursday’s clash will bring Mills up against his long-time San Antonio coach 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.”