Iran survives Japan, settles for 3rd place
CHANGSHA CITY, China—Iran found the going tough against a severely undersized Japan crew before prevailing, 68-63, in the Fiba Asia Championship’s battle for the crumbs—the bronze medal—Saturday night at Changsha Social Work College gym here.
Dethroned by mighty China on Friday night in the Final Four, the Iranians could not dominate the Japanese, losing an early 14-point lead to trail so many times in the second half.
Samad Nikkha Bahrami, the flashy Iranian swingman who picked China as the favorite over Gilas Pilipinas in the gold medal match going on at press time, rescued the Iranians with a tournament-best 35 points, 10 of them coming in the fourth period.
“We are certainly disappointed at how we finished,” Iran coach Dirk Bauermann said.
Iran had won this tournament two of the last three editions, winning in 2009 in Tianjin over the Chinese and then two years ago at the expense of the Filipinos at SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila.
China prevailed in 2011 in Wuhan in what Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said was a “bum call” late in the game that led to a one-point victory over Jordan.
Japan got a huge lift from Keijuro Matsui and Makoto Hiejima in the first three periods, as it even took a 48-44 lead going into the fourth.
The Iranians, though, refused to just fold up, going to Bahrami and the 7-foot-2 NBA veteran Hamed Haddadi in the fourth period to prevent what would have been one of the biggest shocks in the tournament.
Haddadi scored eight of his 10 points in the fourth period and teamed up with the 6-foot-6 Bahrami in the stretch.
And while Iran’s vaunted international duo was doing the damage on Japan offensively, the Iranian defense clamped down hard on Matsui and Hiejima, holding the two prolific swingmen scoreless in the last 10 minutes.
Still, it was a great finish for this Japan team that pundits refused to consider as a favorite in pretournament hype.
The Japanese made do with just one legitimate big man—the 6-foot-10 Jojie Takeuchi—in this tournament where big men are a premium.
Like he has done for most of Japan’s games here, Takeuchi, the baby-faced veteran, gutted out a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes of being pounded underneath by the tall and beefy Iranian frontline.
Matsui still went on to lead all Japanese shooters with 18 points built around a 6-for-10 clip from three-point region, with Hiejima firing 14.
Lebanon, Gilas Pilipinas’ quarterfinal victim, salvaged fifth place earlier in the day after scoring a high-wire 88-87 nipping of South Korea.
Not even considered to be in the top eight of the Fiba power rankings before the start of the tournament, the Lebanese celebrated their return to the event in style with their overachieving finish, considered as such because of a two-year absence and superstar Fadi El-Khatib not making the trip.
Lebanon had served a two-year suspension imposed by Fiba because of a rift in its cage association, something similar to what the Philippines went through when a power struggle between the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas and the Basketball Association of the Philippines took place in the last decade.
Amir Saoud, Bassil Bawli and Charles Tabet came up with the shots that mattered in the stretch before the rest of the Lebanese team watched with bated breath as Sung Min-cho missed a three-pointer which could have won it all for the Koreans at the buzzer.
Sixth place is indeed a disappointing finish for Korea, which was in the Final Four in Manila in 2013 and is the reigning Asian Games champion.
Kim Jong-kyu scored 16 points and had 12 rebounds for the Koreans, who sorely missed the services of the retired Oh Se-keun and gunslinger Kim Min-goo, who figured in a celebrated drunk driving accident at home last year.
The Qataris, meanwhile, finished seventh after ripping India, 84-58.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.