NBA star Patty Mills predicts the Boomers’ thrilling 12-point win over New Zealand in Melbourne on Saturday will be the start of a basketball renaissance in Australia.
More than 15,000 people filled Rod Laver Arena to watch the women’s and men’s teams play the first of a two-leg series against their trans-Tasman rivals to qualify for the Rio Olympics.
It was the biggest basketball crowd in the country since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Mills declared it the best he’s ever played in front of at home, while fellow guard Matthew Dellavedova echoed the sentiment.
Both credited the rowdy bunch for giving them a boost of energy in the final stretch.
“It’s a great feeling to play in front of a crowd like that,” said 27-year-old Mills, who knocked down two three-pointers in the final quarter to stave off a resurgent Tall Blacks and secure the victory.
“The guys really enjoyed it, I think they thrived off it and I think this is just the beginning of basketball in Australia coming back alive again.”
Dellavedova was a crowd favourite, adding 15 points and displaying the grit that earned him plaudits and disapproval alike from basketball’s elite during Cleveland’s run through the NBA playoffs.
He’s barely had a break since the series in June, but showed no signs of fatigue in his 25 minutes.
“It’s hard to get tired when you’ve 15,000 Aussies packed in here,” Dellavedova told AAP.
“It’s an unbelievable event for basketball in Australia and we really appreciate everyone coming out and I know all the boys were really looking forward to it.
“It was even better than what we could’ve imagined.”
Mills said games get no rougher than against New Zealand in the Oceania championships, of which Australia has won all but two since 1971.
And the San Antonio Spurs point guard doesn’t expect the physicality to abate when they clash again in the second leg in Wellington on Tuesday.
“It starts from the haka – you can feel the intensity that they’re going to bring,” he added.
“And that’s what they did. I’m sure it’s going to be ten-fold when they go over there.”
If the Boomers win, or at least lose by 11 points or less, they will earn automatic qualification for the 2016 Olympics.
If not, they’ll be forced to contest a qualification tournament next year.