It was a battle that promised stiff competition for the Iranians, which have been sending their opponents to kingdom come so far in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship. After all, they're facing a fellow 2014 FIBA World Cup qualifier—a team which they also faced (and beat) in the finals of the 2013 edition of the current tournament.
But while our beloved national team is expected to put up one helluva fight, many of us agreed that, before the match, we are the underdogs, thanks to this mountain of a man:
The 7'2" Hamed Haddadi is just one (albeit the biggest) piece of the Iranian puzzle though; the Middle Eastern team has a load of other talented players (Samad Nikkhah Bahrami comes to mind) and giants (they have two other players standing at least 6'9") which make them a scary match-up for any Asian squad. Combine all that with their solid fundamentals, scary chemistry, and familiarity and you've got a title favorite.
Which is why our 14-point victory seems that much sweeter.
We do have the bodies to at least bother them on the court (thank you, Kuya Asi and Dray!) but, when Iran's goliaths came marching in, it was our talented "Davids" who played the biggest.
Watching these relatively little men run rings around their bigger rivals made us scream "Anong height niyo!!!" again, and again, and again:
Faced with forwards four to five inches taller, "The Beast" was unfazed. The undersized baller from Pampanga fought tooth and nail—all 6'2" of him—and wound up with all-around numbers of 13 points, six rebounds, and a steal in just 20 minutes of action. Not included in his stat-line: 20 "you-ain't-gonna-beat-us" intimidating stares, 12 "aabot ako!" dives, and 10 TOs (tongue-outs, not turnovers). Those are totally made-up figures, by the way, but you get the drift.
Seriously, Abueva provided the hustle and energy he's known for as well as the booger-like defense versus Iran's guards and forwards. That's dedication and a beastly effort right there.
Terrence "Ang Pambansang Bro" Romeo is proving his 2015 Jones Cup showing was no fluke. The shifty 6'0" GlobalPort guard sniped, sprinted, spun, and faded away for a total of 15 markers, including three of five from rainbow territory. What's more impressive is his timing; he did damage in the final two quarters, helping Gilas Pilipinas recover from a six-point deficit early in the third quarter and ultimately grab the lead just before the final canto.
Say what you will about his colorful 'do, but the kid can definitely play. Somewhere out there, this reporter is smiling.
Once again, the 5'11" Jayson William (Castro) showed us why he is one of Asia's elite guards. No one from Iran can keep up with him as he blitzed his way to a 26-point game. He applied the hurt in a variety of ways—spin moves, treys, layups—and became the offensive juggernaut our national team sorely needs. His daredevil drives in the fourth quarter put more separation between Gilas Pilipinas and Iran and, at the same time, told our Asian rivals "not today." You can really see the frustration from the Iranians whenever he activates his afterburners on the way to an uncontested hoop.
We may be calling him William now (for FIBA Asia identification purposes), but he'll always be "The Blur."
It's still a total team effort (special mention goes to Marc Pingris and Gabe Norwood who both played great D throughout the game) but, at least for this game, William, Romeo, and Abueva deserve the biggest applause. Here's to hoping we'll be singing the same tune for the other players in the next games.
All photos via FIBA.com