Mills, a key backup on the San Antonio Spurs' 2014 NBA championship team, scored a game-high 25 points to energize Australia to a 98-72 victory over Finland in the teams' Group E opener. He was 11-for-22 from the floor and added eight rebounds, four steals and two assists in 28-plus minutes. What's more, Mills received the Player of the Game accolade.
The 35-year-old guard pumped in 12 points, tops among all scorers, in the opening half and provided steady scoring after the intermission, too. His Basketball World Cup scoring streak began in 2010.
Australia, which led 45-30 at the end of the second quarter, extended its lead to 70-54 entering the final period at Okinawa Arena.
In short, two generations of stars excelled for Australia in the runaway victory.
Oklahoma City Thunder guard Josh Giddey, a rising star at age 20 and the No 6 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, nearly finished with a triple-double for Australia, supplying 14 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Fellow NBA players Joe Ingles and Dante Exum, a backup point guard, finished with 13 and 10 points, respectively as Australia featured a well-balanced offensive attack.
Giddey Pleased with Australia's Overall Effort
After his Basketball World Cup debut, Giddey said his team was at its best when "we were out in transition, running. And I think that momentum at the end of the second [quarter] carried through into the third and fourth."
In addition, the game ended as expected.
Australia, the world's third-ranked men's national team, placed fourth at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup and earned the bronze medal at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. World No 24 Finland didn't qualify for the 2019 Basketball World Cup and didn't compete at the delayed Tokyo Games in 2021.
Backups Provide Big Scoring Punch for Australia
Australia coach Brian Goorjian's squad shot 37-for-73 (50.7%) from the field in the convincing victory. The Aussies also got a big boost from their bench, with their backup players outscoring Finland's reserves 45-23.
Among the backups, Xavier Cooks scored nine, Jack White added seven and Josh Green had six.
Noting there are several newcomers on the national squad, Goorjian said his team started to play more cohesively as the game progressed.
"I just thought we started poorly," Goorjian told a news conference, "and I just thought we stayed with it and what we talked about leading in [to the game], the importance of the defense, I just thought we were tremendous defensively."
Markkanen Leads Finland in Scoring in Basketball World Cup Opener
For Finland, Lauri Markkanen had 19 points on 7-for-17 shooting. Markkanen, who averaged a career-best 25.6 points per game for the Utah Jazz in the 2022-23 season, grabbed eight rebounds. He also had a team-high four turnovers.
Veteran guard Sasu Salin chipped in with 13 points for Finland, which matched Australia's energy in the first half but struggled to consistently make baskets in the second half.
Finland coach Lassi Tuovi said there were no big surprises from Australia in the game.
He said Australia "showed the spirit and the way of playing that you know why they are [one of the] favorites in this tournament."
Added Tuovi, "And even though we can be proud of how we came into the game and challenged them … they didn't panic and especially at the end of the second quarter took the lead and kept going."
Sixteen seconds into the contest, Australia's Mills, who joined the Atlanta Hawks this offseason, gave a sneak preview of his overall game by knocking down a pull-up jumper for the first points for either team.
Neither team seized control in the opening quarter. Markkanen scored on an impressive layup to give Finland a 21-17 lead with 59 seconds remaining in the period, and the score remained the same entering the second stanza.
Slam Dunks Showcase Australia's Energetic Play
In the third quarter, Australia's Matisse Thybulle converted an alley-oop jam at the 7:49 mark, capitalizing on Exum's pinpoint pass above the rim. Moments later, Duop Reath made a slam after Thybulle's steal initiated a scoring chance for the Boomers. That gave Australia a 56-44 lead with 5:20 to play in the third. Finland never got closer than eight the rest of the way.
"I think it was a big learning experience for us," Finland forward Mikael Jantunen insisted after the game, "that we can't give teams like this any sort of advantages."
Jantunen told reporters that Finland didn't match Australia's intensity when it was outscored 53-32 in the second half.
"When somebody gives us a punch in a game," Jantunen said, "we've got to be able to take it and step back up. And we've got to do it as a team."
Australia sank 16 of 17 foul shots for the game and effectively slowed down Finland's offense in the second half.
Notes from the Basketball World Cup
Japanese women's basketball legend Yuko Oga was one of 12 individuals inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame on Thursday, August 24 in Manila.
Headlined by retired NBA star Yao Ming of China, the Class of 2023 induction ceremony was held on the eve of the Basketball World Cup.
The inductees' acceptance speeches are posted on FIBA's official website.
Author: Ed Odeven