LONDON (AFP) –
Chinese hopes of reaching the Olympic men’s basketball medal playoffs took a double blow on Thursday with NBA star Yi Jianlian suffering a knee injury in winless China’s 81-61 loss to Australia.
Yi was helped off the court by teammates after the defeat, which could put China (0-3) in position to miss the quarter-finals if the Aussies (1-2) defeat Britain on Saturday to clinch a berth in the medal playoffs.
“He took a bang just above the knee, not on the knee,” Chinese coach Bob Donewald said. “We’ll have to see how he is.”
Aussie coach Brett Brown knows how big a loss Yi would be for China.
“He commands different types of defensive adjustment,” Brown said. “They get good 3-point shots because he makes it tough on the inside.”
NBA guard Patrick Mills scored 20 points for Australia while David Andersen added 17 points and seven rebounds and Joe Ingles had 13 points and seven rebounds as the Boomers put themselves on the verge of the knockout stage.
“It meant a lot to win,” Andersen said. “If we hadn’t it would have been hard to make it to the next round. We show character when our backs are against the wall. We worked as a team.”
Wang Shipeng led China with 21 points and Yi added 13 in a losing cause.
“I’m very disappointed,” Wang said. “We just want to fight for every single match. The morale of the team is just not to give up. We want to play a better standard.”
Yi Li hit a jump shot at the buzzer to give China a 22-21 lead after the first quarter but China went cold shooting in the second quarter and the Aussies had runs of 14-6 and 9-0 in rolling to a 49-33 half-time edge.
“It was tough and physical, just the way we want it,” Mills said. “We wanted to get back on track. We’re ready to take on the challenge and make the next round.”
China trimmed the Boomers’ lead to 61-52 entering the fourth quarter, nine points in the quarter from Wang boosting Chinese hopes.
But China went scoreless for more than five minutes to start the final period while the Aussies went on a 14-3 run that sealed victory.
“That was a must-win for us,” Aussie captain Matt Nielsen said. “These are the ones we have to get.”
Donewald could only lamment the fitness issues his side faced down the stretch.
“They wore us down. The fourth quarter showed it. We just tired out and couldn’t deal with it,” he said. “We haven’t arrived yet, clearly. We still get fatigued. We need a couple more Yis and Wang Shipengs out there.”