Goran Dragic is right — Australia rested key guys to “fix” their game Thursday against Angola and lose. But really, Dragic is pissed because Australia just put his Slovenian team in a bind.
Welcome to FIBA, Goran.
Here’s the deal: Australia, Slovenia, Lithuania and Angola are all in Group D of the World Cup (along with Mexico and Korea). The top four teams out of the pool advance to the single-elimination knockout stage that starts Saturday in Barcelona (which is a straight 16-team tournament).
This is the key: In the knockout round Group D matches up with the USA’s Group C in the bottom half of the bracket. What teams in Group D want to do is avoid the USA as long as possible, so they want to finish first or third in the group (then they don’t see the USA until the semifinals, if you’re second in Group D you’ll get the USA in the quarterfinals). Even if you lose in the semifinals you get to play for the bronze medal.
Going into Thursday Slovenia was atop Group D at 4-0, with Australia and Lithuania tied for second/third at 3-1, however Australia was the two seed having the tiebreaker after beating Lithuania.
On Thursday at the half Australia is up by 10 at the half over Angola and realizes if they win this game they will finish second in Group D no matter what. So the Australian coach benches everybody good — I’d call that “going the full Popovich” except the Spurs often win those benching games. Then the rest of Australia’s guys play just sloppy, terrible basketball in the second half. Angola is motivated because with a win they have a chance to make the knockout stage (if Mexico loses to Korea). Angola comes from behind and wins.
(By the way: Australia “tanking” involved them playing a lot of Dante Exum. He has not impressed this tournament, barely playing for the Aussies.)
If Australia had won, Lithuania likely tanks this afternoon against Slovenia to get the three seed and avoid the USA until the semifinals.
Now the Slovenia/Lithuania game matters — winner wins the group and avoids the USA plus gets an easier first-round game Saturday. If Lithuania wins Slovenia slides to the dreaded second seed and Dragic has to go up against Kyrie Irving, Derrick Rose and the USA in the quarterfinals — and remember the USA beat Slovenia by 30 in an exhibition.
Dragic is right, Australia tanked.
Welcome to FIBA, where it is common and, by system, almost encouraged.