Upset alert: Six memorable FIBA Asia Cup games won by the underdogs
BEIRUT (Lebanon) - One of the more exhilarating moments in sports is when the underestimated underdog claims a victory over the overwhelming favorites. In a setting like the FIBA Asia Cup, there have been a couple of upsets that have left some of the powerhouses wondering what went wrong as the final buzzer sounded. Here are some recent ones to look back on!
Jordan vs Iran (Quarter-finals, FIBA Asia Cup 2011)
Setting the Stage: Jordan were no typical underdogs coming into Asia Cup 2011. They had already finished in 3rd place in 2009 with 3 consecutive trips to the Quarter-finals. Lined up with Sam Daghles, Zaid Abbas, and Rasheim Wright, Jordan were loaded and ready to make a long run.
However, Jordan were going up against Iran, the two-time defending Asia Cup title holders. Iran’s most recent loss in the Asia Cup at that point had been against Lebanon… just a but over 4 years earlier in 2007. With Hamed Haddadi, Mahdi Kamrani, Arsalan Kazemi, and Hamed Afagh all on board, it seemed inevitable that Iran would run through to another Asia Cup title.
The Upset: The game was an intense back-and-forth affair, but it seemed like Iran was still going to go away with the W nonetheless. A basket by Haddadi had Iran in control with a 71-64 lead with 6 minutes of play left in the game, but Jordan weren’t going to back down.
They fired back with two three-pointers from Wesam Al-Sous and another from Zaid Alkhas to reclaim the lead for good. Sam Daglhas went 6-8 from the line to ice the game, 88-84.
“Sam said some very inspirational words before the game about how the country has done so much for the players, and how it is their responsibility and they should be enthusiastic about the opportunity to pay something back,” said Tab Baldwin who was head coach of Jordan at that time. “This was the time to do that. And they did.”
Baldwin also took time to acknowledge Iran’s dominance in the past, but didn’t take anything away from his team’s big win.
“Iran has been dominant, certainly in West Asia, for the past four years. Coach [Veselin] Matic has done a great job, he is a great guy, the team is a bunch of great guys,” Baldwin said. “It’s tough for them to go home now, not only when you have expectations on yourself, but everyone else has expectations on you. Condolences to those guys but they have sent a lot of teams home in the past, so I guess it is their turn now.”
It’s also notable that ever since Iran won their first Asia Cup title in 2007 up until their 3rd title run in 2013, Jordan was the only team to hand them a defeat in this setting.
Chinese Taipei vs China (Quarter-finals, FIBA Asia Cup 2013)
Setting the Stage: In 2013, China were the defending Asia Cup champions and had won 15 Asia Cup titles prior to that year. They had played against Chinese Taipei a total of 10 times in the Asia Cup heading into the 2013 encounter, winning all 10 games by double-digits for an average margin of 26.6 points per game.
It would have even been a morale win for Chinese Taipei had they kept the game to a single-digit loss at that point.
The Upset: The first half of the game didn’t set off any upset alerts as China built up the lead to as much as 17 points midway through the second quarter. Even though a halfcourt prayer by Hung Chih-Shan fell through for Chinese Taipei, they still found themselves down by 10 at the half.
Then it all fell apart.
Turnover after turnover, China allowed coach Hsu Chin-Che’s squad back into the game and just continued to pile on all the way to a 96-78 win. The 35-point turnaround went down in the history books as one of the biggest upsets ever in Asia Cup history. Asia Cup debutant Tsai Wen-Cheng broke out for 21 points on 7-10 shooting from the field in what was a game he will never forget.
“We came into this game thinking that we will just do our best,” Chinese Taipei head coach Hsu Chin-Che told GMA News. “It was an incredible game for us.”
This was also only the second Asia Cup ever that Chinese Taipei finished with a better standing than China at 4th and 5th, respectively.
Palestine vs Philippines (Preliminary Round, FIBA Asia Cup 2015)
Setting the Stage: The Philippines had made it to the title game in the previous Asia Cup, qualifying for the FIBA Basketball World Cup for the first time in 36 years. They had former NBA player Andray Blatche ready to make his Asia Cup debut and were returning Jayson Castro, one of the best guards in Asia.
Palestine had never played in a single FIBA Asia Cup ever prior to that moment. Their match against the Philippines was going to be the very first time stepping on the court at this level.
This was supposed to be a cakewalk for the Philippines.
The Upset: It wasn’t a cakewalk.
The Philippines had jumped to a 27-12 lead at the end of the first quarter, but Palestine fought back and cut it to a 5-point deficit at halftime. Even after the Philippines broke out to take another double-digit lead, Palestine still stormed back with a wild 13-1 run of their own to retake the lead.
Jamal Abu Shamala dropped clutch shot after clutch shot in the final sequence, eventually ending up in a memorable 75-73 win for the ultimate underdogs.
“The thing to do now is we have to treat this as a wake up call. Our approach now would have to be to take this loss as a blessing because it came this early in the tournament,” Gabe Norwood told Inquirer at the time.
Though the loss was certainly frustrating, the Philippines still managed to return to the title game for a second straight Asia Cup. Nonetheless, the difference between the résumés of both teams heading into the game makes this one of the biggest shockers in Asia Cup history.
Qatar vs Lebanon (Preliminary Round, FIBA Asia Cup 2015)
Setting the Stage: Qatar had not beaten Lebanon in the Asia Cup in over a decade with the last win over their rivals being in the 2003 third-place game. The Gulf champions were in between transitioning from their aging stars and integrating some new faces into the program.
Lebanon were upstart with rising stars in Wael Arakji and Ali Haidar, looking to start strong for a program that had never failed to make the Quarter-finals since the turn of the century.
The Upset: Qatar were down by as much as 18 points in the first half, but continued to claw their way back into the game. This set up the stage for Saad Abdulrahman Ali to ice 3 free-throws in the waning seconds of the first 40 minutes to force overtime.
With Lebanon up ahead once again in the first overtime session, Cliton Johnson drilled in an off-balance triple in the last 30 seconds to add in another overtime period for both teams to play in.
Ali played the role of the hero once again with a long range three-pointer to seal the deal for good, giving Qatar a 105-100 win.
Philippines vs Iran (Second Round, FIBA Asia Cup 2015)
Setting the Stage: The Philippines were coming off a run to the title game in 2013, but they had opened Asia Cup 2015 to unranked Palestine (read above) and were still scrambling to get back in their groove.
That loss in the 2013 title game also came at the hands of Iran. The 3-time Asia Cup champions had lost only one Asia Cup game in the past 8 years to Jordan (again, read above) and had yet to lose a game so far in this edition heading into the clash against the Philippines.
The Upset: Like the other upsets in this list, the favorites (Iran) held the lead going into the halftime break though the Philippines kept it close. They even grew the lead to as much as 10 points, but the Philippines eventually stormed back to take the lead going in to the final quarter.
The 28-17 third quarter ended up being the turning point of the game as Gilas handed Iran their biggest Asia Cup loss of the decade at that point. Castro shined with 26 points along with rising star Terrence Romeo who put in 15 points of his own.
"This game was won by individuals playing as a team. To many who don’t know Philippine basketball, it won’t make sense. But today, we really exploited that individual skills of our players," Philippines Coach Tab Baldwin, familiar with claiming upsets against Iran in the Asia Cup, said back then.
Korea vs New Zealand (FIBA Asia Cup 2017)
Setting the Stage: 2017 was New Zealand’s debut in the Asia Cup, so the Tall Blacks and Korea had no back history prior to the clash. However, New Zealand were big favorites heading into the game since they were ranked at 20th in the FIBA World Rankings as compared to Korea who were at 30th at that time.
Both had played in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014, though New Zealand were coming off their 4th straight appearance while Korea hadn’t made the tournament since 1998.
At Asia Cup 2017, New Zealand had already beaten hosts Lebanon 86-82 while Korea had lost at the hands of Lebanon 72-66 before the two teams would meet for the first time.
The Upset: New Zealand had fell behind early in this game by as much as 15 points. Tough they conjured a masterful rally to regain the lead, Korea took back the lead for the 76-75 win on a late Heo Ung free throw.
This particular win didn’t have much effect, as New Zealand were still able to hold on to their status as the top team in the group heading into the next stage due to point differential in the three-way tiebreaker. However, the two teams met again with larger stakes on the line in the third-place game.
Korea ended up as winners for a second straight time, claiming the lead for good after a 15-0 run early in the game.