(Photos from Rappler.com)
It wasn’t The Finals. It wasn’t a win in China that will transport us to Brazil. It wasn’t even the quarterfinals. It wasn’t an Olympic berth to propel Dondon to face LeBron.
It was historic. It was a game that was unexpected and shocking; a 14-point rout that should have favored the Middle Eastern squad.
Prior to yesterday, Iran had annihilated its enemies. In its first game against Japan, they embarrassed our neighbors up north, 86-48. That’s a 28 point spread. In Game 2, they decimated India by 22 points. In their third outing, they slaughtered the Malaysians by 80 points: 122-42. And last Sunday, the Iranians obliterated Hong Kong, 111-56.
In all, Iran defeated their opponents by an average of 46 points. Can you believe that disparity and dominance?
Gilas Pilipinas? We wobbled. The other afternoon, I watched the game when Gilas played Japan. We nearly faltered. The game was a seesaw. Andray Blatche limped. We escaped with a seven point victory.
Scary. Sloppy. Shaky. And, of course, who could forget our first game against Palestine? Fully charged with the Cebu training camp, we trembled, losing a shocker, 73-75.
This was the premise: Iran was undefeated in four games, averaging a 46-point margin per jaunt, while we, Pilipinas, though sporting a 3-1 count, quivered and appeared wobbly.
Take Mr. Blatche, the former Brooklyn Nets center. Against Japan, we saw how his right ankle twisted. He hopped on one leg, grimaced, and asked to be excused. Minutes later, he returned with the same result: he stumbled and carried all of his 260 lbs. weight on one leg.
Eighteen hours later, forgetting the injury that caused him to appear debilitated, he faced the Iranians, his 6-foot-11 frame shoving and elbowing the 7-foot-2 giant named Hamed Haddadi. Blatched scored 18, pulled down seven rebounds, blocked two shots and stole the ball four times! It was a clash between goliaths and the Am-Fil quashed the bearded Iranian.
Speaking of Haddadi (or, as his official name says, Ehadadi), I call him Iran’s “Great Wall in China.” He’s an inch taller than Shaq, weighs 265 lbs. and was formerly with the Phoenix Suns.
Three Augusts ago inside the MOA Arena during the 2013 FIBA Championships, I saw him play. He’s not only tall and imposing, he’s herculean. His mere presence underneath the goal sends tremors to the invaders.
Yesterday after lunch, I caught the Gilas-Iran game at its best moment. There were five minutes left in the 3rd quarter and we trailed by two. Wow, I told myself, this is close. We have a chance.
Next thing I realized, we squared the game at 52-all. Cebu’s hotshot, Mr. “Cebu Gems” Hontiveros, buries a long-distance trey to move us ahead. Terrence Romeo, whom I call a spitfire, was too quick a Pinoy cat to be caught. In about a minute’s time, he scored two three pionters and a two-pointer. Dumbfounded and alarmed, the Iranians panicked. They attempted to retaliate with their own three-pointers. They missed. They turned the ball over multiple times. By the end of the third, the improbable was turning possible: we led, 65-60.
Good thing we did not experience a collapse like we did against Palestine, when we squandered a 12 point lead to lose by two.
Not this time. Not when history was dribbling inside the excitable heartbeats of Jason Castro, who topscored with 26. Not when Raniel de Ocampo pulled down 10 rebounds; when Romeo shot 3 out of 5 from three-point range.
Our lead extended in the fourth. The whisper “Hopefully, we can” transcended into “Maybe we can do it” before being trumpted as “Yes, we’ll definitely beat Iran.”
It was a definitive win. Fourteen points against the defending champs is large. If this were a punctuation mark, it was an exclamation point, as if to say… Take that, Iran!!!
But, wait, we may have won the battle but the war’s not over yet. Today, we’ll beat India but what beckons are the three most important games, in the quarters, semis and finals, possibly against Korea, China and, again, Iran.