THE Boomers were looking to make history, now it's all they can do to avoid repeating it after squandering a 15-point lead to go down 97-78 to USA on Thursday.
There was a time beating Team USA in basketball was something akin to the four-minute mile, but the once seemingly invincible Americans had rarely looked so mortal in the lead-up.
They lost two of three warm-up games, including one to the Boomers, and dropped another to France in the Group stages. The Aussies were undefeated and were coming off a 38-point drubbing of Argentina in the quarter-finals.
Australians hoped it wouldn't be the case, but the dispassionate school of thought was that the Americans would come good when it counted and it proved the case, Gregg Popovich's star-studded outfit crushing Australia's dreams of gold.
It's not the loss, but the manner of defeat, that will sting long after the Games are over, with the Boomers seemingly cruising before remarkably hitting the skids either side of halftime.
In the end the gulf was not in effort but it class, more specifically the depth of it, with a 32-10 third quarter from the gold-medal favourites leaving the Aussies desperate to dodge a fifth fourth-placed finish at the Games.
To do that, they'll need to get by either a highly-fancied French outfit or a Luka Doncic-led Slovenia chasing its own medal fairytale in the Bronze medal game.
It'll no doubt bring a sense of deja vu for the Boomers surviving Rio Olympians, who also slipped at the semi-final stage to Serbia, and then fell in the bronze-medal playoff by one point to Spain.
It presents a huge challenge for coach Brian Goorjian, but the veteran Illawarra Hawks mentor said his team isn't about to hold a pity party in the wake of the defeat.
"If you can't handle disappointment, don't be involved in sport and don't feel sorry for yourself," Goorjian said.
"These guys have put 12 years into this so, the more you're willing to commit to something, the more you sacrifice for something, the harder it is to retreat, to step backward, to accept.
"When I walked out of that locker room, the message is loud and clear: back straight, head back, walk out of here proud, proud of what you do, proud of who you are, proud of who we're displaying. [There's] no time for, 'Always me, I'm sorry, this didn't happen.'
"We've got something right now in front of us that has never happened in this country and let's get excited about that. We're very honoured and we're very excited to be involved in a game coming ahead that could be our country's first and I'm not allowing that other box.
"You're serious about being in the top four in this world in these Games, you have an opportunity to step to the plate and take a swing at something and you're gonna hang your head?
"We get to go up and pull the bat back, step up to the plate and take a swing. What a great opportunity."
Centre Jock Landale, who'll soon join Popovich at the San-Antonio Spurs, echoed the sentiment, saying his team simply needs to move on quickly.
"We've got to be tough about this," Landale said.
"We can't sit around feeling sorry for ourselves. We've got to be men and just move on and get ready for this next one. I think we're smart enough to be able to do that and just go forward from here.
"It's going to be a quick turnaround. We need to get our minds off it and try and move on to making history and winning bronze."
Landale admitted the crucial third-quarter fade-out was tough to swallow in the aftermath.
"I think that first half was damn near the perfect first half - minus that last minute," he said.
"We just lost them there in a little patch in that third quarter and it's tough to come back from 20 down. We tried to stick with it and fight back in the fourth but they're the best players in the world.
"They're great basketball players, they're smart basketball players. They figure out what you're doing and they just find ways to exploit it.
"I think we started turning the ball over in that third quarter and they were just living in transition. That's tough to beat, [they're the] most athletic guys in the world, so I think that's probably where we lost them."
US superstar Kevin Durant played a lone hand for the best part of the first half, grabbing 15 of his 23 points by halftime as his side went 0-9 from deep to start the game.
They finished at a far healthier 9-28, with Devin Booker going 3-3 in a 12-point third-quarter blitz to finish with 20 points at 7-10 from the field.
Milwaukee star Jrue Holiday also proved a momentum-shifter, finishing just shy of a triple-double with 11 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
Patty Mills had 15 points for the Aussies but it was a tough night for the skipper, who was heavily guarded and went 5-14 from the field. Jock Landale had 11 points and six rebounds, while Dante Exum had 14 points.
In the end, the absence of paint enforcer Aron Baynes became conspicuous as the Boomers were hammered 44-29 on the boards and gave up 14 offensive rebounds crucial in getting the States back into the game.
Australia opened their account with back-to-back threes from Joe Ingles and built an eight-point lead on a shot-clock beating three from Exum.
Durant kept the US offensive afloat with eight of his side's first 14 points as they cut the margin back to three before Chris Goulding drained a long bomb on the buzzer to take a six-point lead at quarter-time.
Goulding drained another and went two of three from the line as the lead swelled to nine two minutes into the second. It went out to double figures on a lay-up from Exum, though Durant fired back with a three-point play.
Exum drained his second three and a three-point play from Mattise Thybulle saw the buffer go out to 13 and, when Landale slammed home a 15-point lead, Popovich had to call timeout.
It proved the turning point of the contest. Having gone 0-9 from three to start, the US hit back with triples to Booker and Jayson Tatum on a 16-4 run that closed it back to three at the half.
The US took back the lead on a pair of lay-ups from Holiday to start the third term and another quick-fire eight from Durant pushed it out to nine.
Landale finally halted his side's scoreless run four minutes into the term with the Boomers first points of the half. Booker got hot with 12 points for the quarter as the lead ballooned to 19 at the final break.
It was a done deal from there, with Goorjian going to his second stringers to close the game in an effort to save the legs of his stars for a tilt at Bronze.
"They're as good a Team USA team that I've played against," Goorjian said.
"The addition - from the time we played them last time (pre-Olympics) of Booker, (Khris) Middleton and Holiday just gave that more bite. I loved the way we played, I thought we did it right, the problem was trying to do that for 40 minutes against a team like this.
"I thought we controlled the tempo, we didn't let them put the ball down our throat. We went through the process of moving the ball and shooting the ball late in the shot clock.
"Then as the game went on and they just kept rotating bodies, rotating bodies, that process got harder and harder. Unique to the competition, from everybody else we've played, is their ability to switch one through five and [us] not being able to get an advantage there."
For his part, Popovich was full of praise for the Aussies who gave his side all it could handle through the best part of two quarters.
"That really bothered us at the start of the game when we went down 14 or 15, and they just sliced us and diced us," Popovich said.
"We looked like we'd never played together before, the defence had never been caught, which in some respects is true I guess, thinking about it.
"We had to try to figure out on the fly how to do it. I thought in the last five minutes of the second quarter and the third quarter we were very aggressive, we pressured well, understood that that's what it was going to take to beat a fine team like that.
"It fuelled our offence and we got it going pretty good then. We're thrilled with the win but as anybody would understand there's still two good teams out there that have the same ambitions we do."
Sports writer. Sport is my passion, rugby league my first love.
Sports writer. Sport is my passion, rugby league my first love.
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