As a crafty left-hander, Goran Dragic immediately recognizes all forms of sneakiness. Perhaps that's why he was so quick to call out Australia for its canny strategy against Angola on the final day of group play in the FIBA World Cup.
Basketball is a beautiful sport, there is no room for fixing the game like today Australia vs Angola!! @FIBA should do something about that!— Goran Dragic (@Goran_Dragic) September 4, 2014
UPDATE: Monday, September 8, at 12:03 p.m. ET by Grant Hughes
Dragic isn't the only one whose interest (and perhaps ire) was piqued by Australia's actions. FIBA is getting involved, investigating the contest in question and asking for an explanation.
Basketball's international governing body is investigating whether Australia deliberately lost a World Cup game to delay a possible matchup with the United States.
FIBA said "it is widely suspected that Australia lost" on purpose to Angola in a Group D game on Thursday in Las Palmas, Spain. The Angolans won 91-83.
Per the report, FIBA added that Australia's "on-court behavior...generated huge disappointment by basketball fans and experts."
---End of Update---
The term "fixing" is loaded, as it conjures up images of back-room deals and money changing hands. Australia merely took advantage of the way group play allows teams to see the easiest path through the subsequent elimination round ahead of time.
The Aussies were just being opportunistic—if, perhaps, a bit too obviously.
Watching Australia's tank vs. Angola. All the rushed jumpers & conceded lay-ups, plus the yellow jerseys, & you could swear it's the Lakers— Ben Golliver (@BenGolliver) September 4, 2014
It's complicated, but here's the thumbnail sketch that explains why Australia rested its best players, mailed in the second half and happily complied as Angola turned a 13-point halftime deficit into an eight-point win.
Nobody wants to play Team USA until the last possible moment. If Australia had beaten Angola, it would have sewn up second place in Group D, which would have set it up to face the U.S. in the quarterfinals. By losing, Australia put itself in position to finish third in the group, allowing it to avoid Team USA until the semifinals.
The hope here would be for some other team to dispatch the U.S. sooner, and at the very least, Australia's shot at a bronze medal becomes marginally more realistic.
The upshot (and perhaps the real reason Dragic was upset) is that Lithuania might have phoned in its game against Slovenia in the Group D finale to secure the third seed if Australia had beaten Angola. Dragic knew his Slovenian squad had to beat Lithuania to avoid slipping down to the second seed, which, if your head hasn't already exploded, would mean a quarterfinal date against the U.S., who smashed Slovenia by 30 in an August friendly.
So as long as Dragic's team didn't fall to Lithuania to close out group play, no harm, no foul. Right?
Lithuania beat Slovenia by a final of 67-64, and Dragic, perhaps a little too miffed to find his focus, shot just 5-of-14 from the floor.
Losing on purpose, which is what Australia appeared to do, feels wrong. But the FIBA setup puts that scenario in play by allowing four teams to advance from each group and making it easy to figure out how to avoid tough opponents.
If there's a silver lining in all of this, it's that Dragic might have a little extra motivation as Slovenia advances to the round of 16. He's already been one of the tournament's best players, averaging 17.4 points on 60.7 percent shooting (that is not a typo) in his first five games.
Will Dragic come out with guns blazing now that he's a little cheesed off?
World, beware. Australia woke the dragon.