RIO DE JANEIRO — Andrew Bogut didn’t know if he’d be able to play in the Olympics until Friday. Bogut, who injured his left knee in Game 5 of The Finals, played less than 10 minutes in just one of Australia’s six exhibition games leading into the games, and wasn’t going to make a final call on his status until the day of the opening ceremony, when final rosters were due.
“If it wasn’t right yesterday, I’m going to fly back home,” he said Saturday. “But it was good enough to play.”
Not only that, Bogut looked to be 100 percent in leading Australia to an easy, 87-66 win over France in the opening contest in Rio. Bogut tallied 18 points on 9-for-10 shooting, elevating for several dunks, even one where he ran a pick-and-roll (as the ball-handler) with teammate Joe Ingles setting the screen.
Australia looked terrific. France, thought to be a medal favorite, did not. Tony Parker scored 18 points, but didn’t get much help. Boris Diaw shot 4-for-11 and Nicolas Batum took just three shots, as France couldn’t handle the physical play of Australia.
“Before this tournament, we said our identity’s going to be we need to be ***** defensively,” Bogut said. “We need to be in guys. We need to be physical. That’s the only chance we have to beat a lot of these teams that are a little more talented than us.”
France needed some aggressiveness from someone other than Parker, but it’s not necessarily in them to take advantage of one-on-one matchups.
“It’s not our game to play one-on-one,” Diaw said. “That’s not us. We got to move the ball.”
More concerning was their defense, which got beat back door early and often. Even with Rudy Gobert on the floor for France, Australia controlled the paint.
And Bogut was a huge part of that. If he couldn’t play, there would be a big void in the Australia offense, which counts on him more than the Warriors did (and the Mavs will).
“Obviously, with the Warriors, he doesn’t have the ball as much,” Ingles said. “He’s more of a screener and a ball-mover. With us, we want him to have the ball as much as possible. Between him and Patty [Mills], we’re trying to get them [going] and play off it.”
Mills led Australia with 21 points, while Matthew Dellavedova dished out a game-high 10 assists. Bogut added five dimes himself, as Australia registered 29 assists on its 35 field goals.
“He’s the best big passer in the NBA, probably in the world,” Ingles said of Bogut. “The more the ball’s in his hands, the better for us.”
Bogut’s play is an encouraging sign for Australia, which should have no problems qualifying for elimination out of Group A with a win already in hand and games against China and Venezuela still to come. France certainly has the ability to bounce back, but will likely need a win against Serbia to avoid finishing fourth in the group and facing Group B’s top team in the quarterfinals.