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Game Three Preview: Beijing

The series couldn’t be balanced any better, the CPA Australia NBL All Australians locked 1-1 and 121-121 with China after two games, with the argument to be settled in Beijing tonight.

The Australians played the role of polite guests in Game 1, letting highly-disputable calls pass by without comment and not reacting to some of the physical play from an aggressive Chinese team.

That didn’t end well though, the Aussies overrun in a torrid second half, so come Game 2 in Guangzhou they took a different approach.

Standing up to the niggle was the easy bit – the likes of Jesse Wagstaff, Lucas Walker and David Barlow eat that stuff for breakfast – it was the tactical adjustments that were most impressive.

Rim smarts

In Game 1 the Aussies were monstered when they attacked the basket, blocked 10 times by China’s giants while getting to the charity stripe for just five free throws.

Two nights later they didn’t back down, but early in the game they intelligently played inside-out, punishing the rotating Chinese D by finding the open man, Jason Cadee and Wagstaff capitalising with early triples.

They still made slow rotations pay, however, Lucas Walker attacking the hole with aggression to rack up six paint points in the opening six minutes, including a big two-handed jam.

The approach needs to be the same in Game 3, but the Aussies also must learn from Sunday’s the final quarter, when China’s bigs once again had a block party.

Precocious teenager Zou Yu Chen showed why he is expected to be a superstar of Chinese basketball with some improbable swats, and Australia’s guards need to be aware when he is around.

The need for speed

While 72 points is a solid score in international basketball – and a vast improvement from 49 in Game 1 – the Aussies still had their struggles, going scoreless for seven minutes in the second term and managing just five points in almost eight minutes of the fourth.

Andrej Lemanis’ men have looked their best when they have played quickly but under control, getting the ball into offence early and keeping it moving until an open look or driving lane presents.

The key to that is early screens from the Australian bigs, and the ability of Cadee, Adam Gibson and Mitch Norton to exploit them.

Repeatedly those guards went at the legs of the Chinese big men defending the screens, forcing them to either foul or cede way and make their teammates help, opening passing and driving lanes for the Aussies.

Those two factors helped the visitors get into the bonus early in quarters and pick up some cheap points, something that wasn’t on offer in Game 1.

The need to defend speed

When China have got on an offensive roll it has been behind their penetration, Ding Yan Yu Hang in Game 1 and Liu Xiao Yu on Sunday two players  who have proven difficult to contain.

Once the Australian perimeter defence has been broken they’ve had little chance of stopping Zou or Li Mu Hao inside once they catch an interior pass or offensive board.

Australia’s full-court pressure defence has been effective in slowing China’s entry into offence – limiting their opportunities to penetrate – but Lemanis’ men must make buckets or get to the free-throw line so they can set up their D.

Cadee, Gibson and Norton also need to slow the ball in transition, and they’ll need Wagstaff, Walker, Barlow and Co being proactive to help and recover in the open court against the slippery Chinese guards.

Let’s get physical

China physically bullied their opposition at last year’s FIBA Asia Championship, with Zhai Xiao Chuan and Ding Yan Yu Hang two of the leading exponents.

When playing at home there is huge pressure on the Chinese to win, so expect their physicality to go up another level tonight.

China have rested five stars from this series, and Zhai Xiao Chuan, Ding Yan Yu Hang, Zou Yu Chen and Li Mu Hao have likely secured their ticket to Rio, so the remainder of this team are desperately competing for the final three Olympic berths.

Can the CPA Australia NBL All Australian side match that urgency while playing with the smarts that helped secure a memorable Game 2 win?

Tune into Fox Sports 503 or nbl.com.au/china on Tuesday night at 9.30pm AEST to find out!

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