Damning Boomers truth exposed
Let's start by acknowledging no one will be hurting more than the Boomers today.
The likes of Patty Mills, Joe Ingles, Matthew Dellavedova and Aron Baynes have dreamt - and dedicated - their whole lives to winning a medal at a major basketball tournament.
And they'll likely never get closer than having a seven-point fourth-quarter lead against Spain and a 15-point second-half lead against France before coming up empty at the World Cup.
It's also incredibly hard to be critical of a team that represents everything we hold dear about our country. Their commitment, camaraderie and class is beyond question.
But if the goal was (and still is) to come home with something hanging around their necks, this was a fail. And failure requires review - and hopefully a strong response.
Australia has two options as it leaves China with its fifth fourth-placed finish at a World Cup or Olympics.
Hope the addition of Ben Simmons - and perhaps Ryan Broekhoff and to a lesser extent Jonah Bolden and even Thon Maker - for next year's Games in Tokyo will be enough to carry them over the edge. Continue to believe, as coach Andrej Lemanis said after losing 67-59 to France, that "we're good enough to go get a medal".
Or accept this core group of players that has competed so wonderfully for the past three years just isn't good enough to get it done when the gold, silver or bronze is there to be won.
When the margins are as fine as they were in the Spain game - when a Patty Mills free throw or dare we say, those horrendous foul calls against Baynes and Andrew Bogut, could have been the difference between winning and losing - it's tough to argue major action is needed.
But when the opposition comeback feels so inevitable that Aussie basketball great Shane Heal started openly worrying about France's resurgence in commentary when the lead was still at 12 points, it's fraught with danger to put the final result down to the bounce of the ball.
This tournament rammed home many realities we already knew about these Boomers - most glaringly a team that relies so heavily on effort and energy is always going to struggle in the final stages of a tournament.
Lemanis spoke about the need to find a way to remain tight in our offensive and defensive schemes when fatigue sets in. "Earlier in the tournament, we were able to deliver in those situations," he said. "Perhaps more stuff when we can get a bit more to the point, in those games when we're looking a little tired."
No player highlighted this more than Mills - whose performances over his entire international career have been so outstanding he deserves to be our flag-bearer in Tokyo.
After eight early points against France he looked absolutely exhausted. Lemanis tried to freshen him up for crunch time by sitting him for an extended period in the third quarter but he was cooked - missing lay-ups, losing his footing and dribbling the ball off his sneaker when he returned.
Mills, who has never played more than 25 minutes a game in 10 seasons in the NBA, averaged more than 33 in eight games in China and it showed.
Compare that to French difference-maker Nando De Colo, who scored 19 points and dominated the second half after playing only 23 minutes a game in the tournament.
You could question whether that was poor load management by Lemanis, but he was hamstrung a bit because so many of our preliminary games weren't decided until the fourth quarter. We don't have the talent to regularly blow teams off the court so our best players are always going to have to play more.
We begin with Mills because he appears to be our only hope in these games. Joe Ingles bounced back against France but in the latter stages of the Spain thriller he looked like the player who averaged six points a game in the first round of the playoffs against Houston back in April.
Matthew Dellavedova, after making two early threes against Spain, went 0/8 across the next seven quarters. Add that to his 1/6 effort in the Rio Olympics semi-final against Serbia and it's starting to paint a picture of how reliable his shot is in big moments. There were some crucial turnovers against Spain too as he lost composure.
Chris Goulding isn't a key piece on this team, but dear oh dear. This tournament had been somewhat of a redemption after he looked out of his depth in Rio. But he was 1/8 from deep in the final two games and two plays - an airball late against Spain and a missed lay-up in the fourth quarter against France - were simply inexcusable at this level. When we needed a cameo like France got from Andrew Albicy (three huge late three-pointers), Goulding showed why he should either miss the flight to Japan or be cast in Nathan Sobey's 12th man role.
Even Nic Kay, who was a revelation, missed two shots he'd been making all night against Spain. But our big men - Bogut and Baynes were also extremely solid - aren't the ones who can win it for us when the game slows down. They're not Marc Gasol.
So what should happen? The most drastic response would be to sack Lemanis, accept this group has squeezed every possible drop out of its potential and use next year's Olympics to debut the next generation. But that would be harsh - and risky.
Turning the keys over to Simmons is fraught with danger until we properly understand his commitment to the program. This group's success has been built on a decade of continuity and it's unrealistic to expect a team with more talented individuals to perform better unless they show the same dedication.
But players like Dellavedova and Goulding need reduced roles, the reliance on Mills and Ingles has to lessen and if Broekhoff isn't the guy to make clutch shots down the stretch we need to find who is fast.
BOOMERS BRONZE-GAME WOES
- 1988 Seoul Olympics: Lost 78-49 to USA
- 1996 Atlanta Olympics: Lost 80-74 to Lithuania
- 2000 Sydney Olympics: Lost 89-71 to Lithuania
- 2016 Rio Olympics: Lost 89-88 to Spain
- 2019 China World Cup: Lost 67-59 to France.