August 12, 2013

Hadaddi leads Iran to 2013 FIBA Asia Basketball Gold; India finish 11th

From improbable comebacks to shocking upsets, the basketball-manic home crowd at Manila, Philippines, played host to the most unpredictable FIBA Asia Basketball tournament in recent memory. Backed by the fervent home support, the Philippines even marched its way to the Final of the tournament on Sunday, August 12. But Asia’s premier basketball competition finally ended with the most deserving and finest squad – Iran – walking home with their third gold medal.

Iran were undefeated through the course of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championship, running through all their opponents in the first two rounds before an easy sweep of Jordan and Chinese Taipei in the knockout stages to set up the finale against the Philippines. The motivated hosts – playing in their first gold medal game in 27 years – gave Iran their toughest fight yet. Iran held on to just a one point lead at halftime, but began to steadily pull away in the second period. A dominant second half by Hamed Hadaddi helped Iran clinch an 85-71 victory and make it three gold medals in the past four iterations of the championship.

Hadaddi – who last played for the Phoenix Suns in the NBA – scored 18 of his game-high 29 points to go with 16 rebounds to lead Iran and also secure his own third MVP award at the FIBA Asia Championship. The 7-2 Center led the tournament in points (18.8 ppg) and rebounds (10 rpg). Samad Nikkah Bahrami added 19 points for Iran. The Philippines were led in the final by point guard Jayson William, who had 18 points in the loss.

With the Finals’ appearance, both Iran and Philippines automatically qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup to be held in Spain next year.

Earlier on Sunday, the competition’s unlikely Cinderella team, Chinese Taipei, faced off against Korea in the bronze medal game. The game was crucial to determine the third team from Asia to play in the 2014 World Cup. Korea started the game in dominant fashion, taking a 29-13 first quarter lead, en route to an easy 75-67 victory. Min Goo Kim had 21 points for Korea off the bench.

On Saturday, the Philippines defeated Korea in a highly-entertaining semi-final clash 86-79 behind 17 points by Jayson William and 16 by Jean Marc Pingris. Korea’s Min Goo Kim was again on fire, scoring 27 points in the loss. After surprisingly trailing by nine in the first quarter, Iran came back strong to win their semi-final clash 79-60 against Chinese Taipei behind big performances by Mahdi Kamrany (19) and Hadaddi (17 points, 14 rebounds). Naturalized American player Quincy Davis had 16 points for Chinese Taipei.

Taipei’s run to fourth place was highlighted by a memorable win over ‘big brother’ China, their first ever victory over the Asian powerhouses. China – winners of 15 gold medals at the FIBA ABCs and holding champions – surprisingly struggled throughout the tournament in Manila, finishing third in their group and showing signs of weaknesses despite boasting of former NBA player Yi Jianlian. In the Quarter-Final clash between China and Chinese Taipei, the former held an 17-point first half lead, only to see it stolen away as Taipei came back to win by 18!

The tournament was also a breathtaking roller-coaster for India, who arrived as one of the minnows after a 14th place finish back in 2011. Led by new head coach Scott Flemming, India were placed in a relatively easier group with Kazakhstan, Bahrain, and Thailand. Flemming aimed to make it to the Second Round and then home for miracles ahead, and needing only one win in the Preliminary Stage, this aim seemed achievable.

India faced Bahrain in the first game, and were looking completely in-charge of matters as they came back from an early deficit to hold a seven point lead in the game’s final minute. That is when Bahrain rallied back to shock the Indians and tie the game at 70-70 with the aid of some squandered chances by India and big shots on the other end. The game went into overtime, and Bahrain took full opportunity of this second life to inch to a 82-80 victory. Mohamed Kawaid had 25 points for the winning side. Narender Grewal scored 25 and Amjyot Singh had 16 points to go with 14 rebounds for India.

Luckily, there was no hangover the very next day for the Indians as they started strong against Thailand and blew them out early for an impressive 89-65 win. Grewal continued his hot streak to lead all scorers with 24. India's captain Vishesh Bhriguvanshi added 20 points to go with eight rebounds. This game was significant because it became the first ever Indian basketball game - domestic or international - to be shown live on cable TV in India. Neo Prime continued to show other games from the tournament via FIBA TV broadcast live in India from here forth.

Kazakhstan - the group leaders - were up next for India, and Flemming's young side were unfazed for one half against the bigger Kazakhi side. But the efforts of Mikhail Yevstigneyev (21) and Jerri Jonson (16) led Kazakshtan to completely dominate the third quarter. A fourth quarter comeback seemed out of reach and India lost the game 80-67. Bhriguvanshi scored 19 points.

India were thus in the Second Round, carrying on their standings from the first and readying to face some Asian powerhouses. First up were eventual winners Iran, who showed no mercy in handing India their worst loss of the competition, 102-58. Hamed Afagh scored 16 to lead Iran's balanced attack.

Next up to demolish the Indian side were China. Playing extremely stingy defense, China held India to their worst offensive performance as they won the game 79-45. India were just 1-11 from three-point distance. Young Chinese prodigy Wang Zhelin had 18 points and nine rebounds while Ailin Guo added 16 off the bench. India's only double-digit scorer was young big man Amjyot Singh, with 16.

Another slaughter followed the very next day, as Korea used a balanced, efficient attack to defeat India 95-54. Pratham Singh had 18 points off the bench for India.

Out of the knockout stages, India had to settle for the 9-12 place matches. They seemed to be revitalized and primed for an upset over Japan, leading 25-16 after the first quarter and 41-29 at halftime. But Japan turned the tables around in the second half, and - just like in their loss to Bahrain - India once again managed to let a victory slip away between their fingers. Japan took their first lead with three minutes left and then never looked back. Reckless turnovers by India and Japan's dominance on the boards led to a 73-64 Japan win.

India's last game of the tournament - to determine 11th place - was against the team they had played and lost to in their very first game: Bahrain. It was India's opportunity for vengeance and to end the tournament on a positive note. They didn't disappoint: after leading by just two points at the end of three quarters, India finally found the confidence to close out a game and win 75-65. Bhriguvanshi led India with 19 points and seven rebounds while Pratham Singh scored 16.

India thus finished the tournament with a 2-6 record and at 11th place, an improvement on the 14th place finish from the 2011 championship in Wuhan (China).

Still, despite the improved performances, most Indian fans will believe that the team could've - and should've - done much better. Despite being the better team on the floor for most of the duration, India lost two games - against Bahrain in the Preliminary Round and against Japan in the 9-12 place game - through pure carelessness and a lack of nerves. Coach Flemming has indeed been a calm and collected presence on the bench for India and helped them improve both their ball-movement and defensive effort, but the squad still has a long way to go. We could attribute some of India's deficiencies to inexperience: apart from Bhriguvanshi, most of the major minutes were played by younger and newer talent to the team, like streaky shooter Grewal, guard Joginder Singh, and the big man combo of Amjyot Singh and Amrit Pal Singh. Most of India's bigs are still in their early 20s (or younger) and this experience will aid them as they improve both mentally and physically in coming years. Flemming has helped the team take a baby step forward at least, and we hope that he is around providing some continuity (as he promised) to oversee more improvements in the future.

Bhriguvanshi, who had a nightmare tournament two years ago, somewhat redeemed himself in Philippines as India's best player, leading the squad in scoring (13.1 ppg) and also adding 5.9 rebounds per game. Narender Grewal cooled down after a hot start to average 11 points per game while a major breakthrough was made by Amjyot Singh, who led the team in rebounds (6.9 rpg) while also scoring 9.6 points per contest. Surprisingly, India's teenage 7-2 phenom Satnam Singh Bhamara didn't get many opportunities to showcase his developing skills. Bhamara was mostly a bench-warmer at the tournament and was only given a chance to play in blowout situations. Still, the youngster has already played in two senior FIBA Asia championships before touching 18, and we hope that the experience goes a long way to prepare him as a potential future star for the squad.

On another note, the tournament marked an important breakthrough, as it was the first time that women referees were chosen to officiate in FIBA Asia Men's games. The two referees chosen were India's very own Snehal Bendke and China's Li Peng. 

Final Standings

1. Iran
2. Philippines
3. Korea
4. Chinese Taipei
5. China

All Tournament Team

Jayson William - Philippines
Min Goo Kim - Korea
Lin Chih-chieh - Chinese Taipei
Oshin Sahakian - Iran
Hamed Hadaddi - Iran - MVP

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