By REYNALD MAGALLON
All of the Asian teams in the 2023 FIBA World Cup have now played two games and only Japan so far has been able to score a victory and take the lead in the race to the lone Paris Olympic berth for Asian teams.
The Akatsuki Five basked in complete euphoria after overcoming a 10-point deficit at the start of the final frame and winning it by 10, 98-88 against Finland in overtime on Sunday, Aug. 27.
The 5-foot-8 and 22-year-old Japanese guard Yuki Kawamura stood the tallest in the lands of the giants finishing with 25 points built on four triples along with nine assists, orchestrating the assault for the hosts along with naturalized player Joshua Hawkinson who had a double-double of 28 points and 19 rebounds.
Both Jordan and Iran came close at replicating the Japanese’ feat just a day after but were not able to pull off the win, also dropping both of them out of contention in the first round.
The Falcons, behind a ‘Kobe-esque’ performance from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, almost completed a huge upset of New Zealand, succumbing to a tough 95-87 loss in overtime.
Hollis-Jefferson, who weaved his magic for Jordan, scoring seven straight points in seven seconds including a gutsy four-point play to send the game to the extra period, wound up with 39 big points in the losing effort.
Team Melli, on the other hand, suffered a heartbreaking 71-69 loss at the hands of Ivory Coast. The Iranians lost on three cold-blooded free throws from Solo Diabete with six seconds left in the contest.
Behnam Yakhchali finished with 19 but that was not enough as Iran couldn’t advance to the second round after Brazil lost to Spain.
Aside from Japan, whose second round fate depends on its looming clash against Australia, Gilas Pilipinas was the only other Asian team with a chance, no matter how slim, to advance to the next round.
Gilas will need the Dominican Republic to beat Angola and then claim an at least 13-point winning margin against Italy.
China’s chances of advancing to the second round also looked bleak after absorbing a 89-69 loss against South Sudan on Tuesday.
Team Dragon remained winless through two games and even if it picks up against Puerto Rico on the final day of the first round, the point differential would be too hard to overcome due to the lopsided defeat.
Lebanon also already bowed out of the first round following a 128-73 drubbing against Canada.
Lebanon, Iran and Jordan must hope that no one among the remaining Asian teams advances to the Top 16 to keep their respective Olympic bids alive.