WUHAN, China (26th FIBA Asia Championship): The atmosphere was electric, the support cacophonic, the occasion momentous, nerves scattered all over and most importantly the performance irresistible. Set against that background China’s 70-69 win – albeit nervy and hard-fought – against underdogs Jordan was not only overwhelmingly logical, but also reflective of the way the Dragon had raised its head again in FIBA Asia Championship.
Yes. China are back on top of the pecking order in FIBA Asia scheme of things – the team having suffered an embarrassing defeat in the gold medal two years ago at Tianjin and a second string finishing 10th two years earlier – winning a record 15th gold medal.
The win – a culmination of a 9-0 spree in the competition – also meant that the country of more than a billion people can start its planning for the London Olympics without any further qualification.
Jordan, on the other hand walked out of the Wuhan Sports Center with their heads held high, and their pride more than enhanced, having entered the gold medal game for the first in history, and against all expectations at that.
To their credit, Jordan did extremely well beyond expectations to keep the contest even till the final buzzer.
Liu Wei burnt the basket to open the scoring for the second half and Yi Jianlian responded on the paint. Wang Zhizhi converted a rebound and followed it up with a layup down the lane. And China were in lead for good this time.
“That run helped us move up. The veterans in our team stepped up when we needed them. After that I had no doubts,” said China coach Bob Donewald.
Yi Jianlian, who was named the MVP by the college of quarterfinalist coaches, accounted for 11 of his team-high 25 points in the third quarter.
“I’m lucky to be his (Yi Jianlian) coach. In fact I am very lucky to coach all these guys. They know when to step up the gas. Makes my job easier,” Donewald said.
Wang Zhizhi and Liu Wei had 6 points each of their 10 and 13 points respectively during this period.
Jordan fought tooth and nail, there was no doubt on this. Rasheim Wright attempting to convert a lucky block into a steal with an improbable chase was evidence for this.
Wright was at the vanguard of the Jordanian cause with a game-high 26 points.
“I thought he had a fantastic game,” said Jordan coach Tab Baldwin.
“I really did think we could have won the game.”
Sam Daghles had 10 points, and 5 rebounds.
But with Zaid Abbas fouling out – with more than 4 minutes on the clock after scoring 13 points and pulling down 10 rebounds – Jordan looked a little short on resources – especially in the closing moments.
Yi Li scored all his 10 points in the final quarter – the sparkling dunk in the dying moments studding his effort – and kept China in lead.
“He was our secret weapon to regain control. And he did what was expected of him,” said Donewald.
Was it size or stamina to stay the distance against a team that was a clear four-cms taller in average height – on the floor probably the gap was even wider – that put paid to Jordan’s hopes of creating history for themselves?
That probably is the only question that will remain unanswered at the end of this magnificent championship.
Play by play
S Mageshwaran / FIBA Asia
Photo: Milad Payami / FIBA Asia