HAMAMATSU (FIBA World Championship) – Australia held off a late fightback by Brazil to win their opening Group C encounter at the FIBA World Championship in Japan, 83-77.
In a pool which also includes Greece, Turkey, Lithuania, and Qatar, the Australians took a giant step towards the eight-finals while Brazil suffered a hard defeat which puts their progression in danger.
The Boomers, without stars David Andersen, Chris Anstey and Glen Saville this summer because of injuries, got an inspirational 16 points from CJ Bruton and key performances from a host of players, including Mark Worthington and Sam Mackinnon, en route to victory.
Australia coach Brian Goorjian said: "It was a very important game for us. We came here saying, `we'll try to do whatever possible to make it to the second round.'
"We missed a lot of guys in the preparation, but slowly we improved and got confidence. The key for tonight's win was Bruton with the ball and he neutralized (Leandro) Barbosa, and also our defense which stood strong most of the game.
"This is a huge, huge win for Austrlia."
The loss of Anstey to injury during the Al Ramsey Shield against New Zealand looked to some as if it might be the final nail in the Boomers' coffin.
"When Anstey went down we became officially small so we talked a lot about spreading the court. Tonight, we have many different players that hit the outside shots. We had a good balance.
"Australia struggled in international tournament on defense almost all the time as far as I remember, but this team is playing good defense."
It did not look promising for the Boomers midway through the second quarter.
Having trailed by as many as eight points, they battled back to lead 40-38 at half-time.
Brazil paid the price for failing to put the Boomers away as the Aussies started to break open a close game with 5:41 left in the contest.
Mackinnon, whose career had been in jeopardy in recent seasons with a knee injury but returned to the line-up at the Commonwealth Games this year, scored on an alley-oop pass from Andrew Bogut and, fouled on the play, made the free throw for a 69-65 advantage.
After Leandro Barbosa was whistled for a charge to give possession back to the Boomers, Mackinnon scored again, this time with a 15-foot jump shot to give the Aussies a six-point cushion.
Mackinnon would end up fouling out but he scored 15 big points.
“It was great for me, playing power forward instead of small or guard,” Mackinnon said. “As a team, we just have to play well and hard for 40 minutes.”
The lead ballooned to 80-68 after Worthington, who missed last season with a broken wrist but battled his way back into the national side during the preparations for the World Championship, scored on a lay-up with just 2:36 to play.
The Brazilians, having committed 25 turnovers in the game and with explosive scorer Marcelinho enduring a terrible night shooting, looked dead and buried.
A dunk by Tiago Splitter sparked them into life.
After the Tau Ceramica center then split two from the line his next trip down the floor, Marcelo Huertas came up with a steal and passed ahead to Barbosa.
The shooting guard scored two of his game-high 18 points with a lay-up to cut the deficit to 80-73 with 2:13 to go.
Marcelinho, who had just three points, did come up with an important steal, intercepting a pass from Bruton and feeding Barbosa again in transition to make it 80-75.
The Australians had looked in control but were suddenly vulnerable.
Worthington had to force up a three-point attempt as the Boomers tried to use most of the shot-clock, and his attempt was blocked by Anderson Varejao.
The ball fell into the hands of Marcelinho, and he raced up the floor, passed to Barbosa at the free throw line.
Barbosa, in his stride but surrounded by Aussies, attempted to lay the ball off to Anderson who was cutting to the basket just a few feet away to his right but the Cleveland Cavalier was not expecting the ball and it went out of bounds with 1:26 to go.
Australian coach Brian Goorjian called timeout after that turnover, and when play resumed, the Oceania giants got the ball into the hands off Bruton, who was fouled and made one of two from the stripe for an 81-75 lead with 1:12 remaining.
Barbosa trimmed the deficit to 81-77and Brazil had a chance to cut into the lead further when Huertas attacked on a fast break, but his shot failed to go down and Guilherme missed the follow-up with 24 seconds to go.
Australia’s Bruton went to the other end to seal the win at three free throw line.
Brazil could have pulled away in the second quarter when they scored nine of the first 10 points of the period to open a 30-22 lead, however, turnovers by the South Americans hurt their cause and Goorjian’s men took advantage.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Worthington tied the game at 38-38, and then two free throws from Brad Newley gave the Australians a 40-38 lead and momentum heading to the changing room at half-time.
Brazil coach Lula Ferreira said: "We didn't play good today. We played good defense in preparations, but not today.
"In the first half, we were eight points ahead but it wasn't enough for us. We made a lot of turnovers, especially when passing the ball, and this gave Australia the chance to take advantage in the second half and that was their key to win the game.
"The Championship started only today and we need to look ahead and start to win in the next game to try and qualify (for the eight-finals)."