China topples Iran, returns to Fiba Asia final
CHANGSHA CITY, China – If things go Gilas Pilipinas’ way late Friday, the Filipinos will be shooting for the gold medal in the Fiba Asia Championship against a most formidable foe and in front of the most hostile crowd to play in front of.
Host China took the full measure of Iran and then dethroned the Iranians in an emphatic manner, 70-57, as the Chinese – backed by a gallery that cheered their every move and jeered the enemy’s every play – now await the winner of the other Final Four pairing pitting the Filipinos against Japan.
China made the first basket and never trailed, with Yi Jianlian, the former Milwaukee Buck in the NBA who totally outplayed Hamed Haddadi, opening up a 56-40 lead with a towering slam going into the final 3:12 of the third period.
Though there were some points where the match was close, the Chinese played with so much confidence that they were able to counter the Iranians’ fearsome international triumvirate by getting contributions from a host of players inside and out.
So dominant were the Chinese in this Final Four match-up that they held Iran to a paltry 29 points in the first two periods, as they stayed on course towards winning this tournament again for the first time since 2011 in Wuhan.
That year, the Chinese turned back Tab Baldwin and Jordan by a point, with the Jordanians being on the losing end of a bum call in the waning seconds.
Gilas, meanwhile, was still shooting for that second title game berth against Japan at press time, looking to defeat the Japanese for the third time this season after victories in the Jones Cup more than a month ago and Sunday last week in the second round of the preliminaries.
Haddadi had 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Iranians, who came into the game trying to pull off a feat in 2009 in Tianjin where they defeated the Chinese – and Yi – in the title match.
Samad Nikha Bahrami was the only other man in twin digits for the Iranians with 18, with Mahdi Kamrani, the prospective Meralco import in the PBA, held to just six points, a rebound and an assist in what is hands-down his worst game in the tournament.
The Iranians sorely missed the services of Hamed Afagh, their deadliest sniper, who suffered a severe right ankle sprain in an easy Last Eight victory over South Korea on Thursday afternoon.
China also defended the outside game of the Iranians well – and coupled by the absence of Afagh – allowed just a 2-for-16 clip from three-point zone by Iran.