So, that’s that.
We entered the final day of the World Championships coffee-stakes tied for 16 predictions each. After each pitching our predictions for the medal games (between us, we didn’t acknowledge the Spain/Poland 6th place game at all because, well, it was still a Sunday morning), we settled on what would serve as the deciding criteria, in the event of it still being a tie at the end of the final day. We have successfully made it through the tournament without making a single accurate margin-of-victory call between the two of us (despite coming within 1 point on a few different occasions), and so we decided that whoever had the closest prediction on the final day would be crowned the winner.
So, rather than just jumping to the juicy, coffee-based details, we’re going to review each of the games, and how they impacted the coffee-stakes, and some other stuff that could be viewed as potentially even bigger than which one of us pays double for coffees all season!
Australia 68 – 57 Iran (Bronze Medal Game)
In the first medal match of the day, both teams were hoping for an electric start that would propel their team to the podium. After a cagey first five minutes, both teams sparked into life and found their offensive game, with Australia holding as much as a five point lead at one point. The quarter ended with Australia holding a slender one point lead 14-13. The start of the second saw Iran regain the lead thanks to the scoring power of Abedi and Hadiazhar. Australia made changes hoping to stem the flow of the Iranian team. Both teams ended the quarter going basket for basket with each other, with Iran now holding a small 2 point lead 29-31. With half time over and the teams refreshed, the battle for the first medal of the men’s competition continued. Iran shot well early on, allowing them to gain a six point lead half way through the third quarter. Australia, determined not to let Iran get away, quickly closed the gap thanks to baskets from O’Neill-Thorne, Norris, Latham and Blair. This comeback resulted in changes for the Iranian team with Abedi and Ebrahimi returning to the floor. However, Australia began to find their rhythm and Iran found it hard to stop. With the offensive game for Australia flowing and Iran drying up on the other end of the floor, the lead quickly jumped out to 10 points. Iran only managed to score one point in the final four minutes of the quarter 50-40. Australia continued their offensive game and within four minutes, the lead was out to 18 points. Leading by as many as 20 at one point, Australia looked like they were cruising to the bronze medal. Iran gave is one last push and managed to reduce the lead to 11 points. But the experience from the Australian team prevailed as they managed to control the end game. Australia took the bronze with a score of 68-57.
Bill Latham (17) Australia
Omid Hadiazhar (16) Iran
Morteza Ebrahimi (15) Iran
Omid Hadiazhar (8) Iran
O’Neill-Thorne (7) Australia
Bill Latham (6) Australia
Morteza Ebrahimi (9) Iran
Mohammadhassan Sayari (7) Iran
Bill Latham (7) Australia
Jannik Blair (7) Australia
USA 62 – 79 Great Britain (Gold Medal Game)
If I come across biased at this point, it’s because there is no way to talk about how good Great Britain was in this game, without sounding biased. Also, it’ll probably be because THEY WENT AND DID IT SO WHO EVEN CARES IF I AM BIASED AT THIS POINT?!
The USA lead twice in this game; 2-0 and 14-12. That’s it. Both teams put out the starting lineup that they had leaned on in the pool game between the two (which the Americans won 66-59), with the USA getting early contributions from Jared Arambula on the offensive end, as GB sold out to contain Steve Serio and Jake Williams, trying to force anybody else to beat them.
Much like the pool game, GB were the better team for the majority of the first half, leading at both the quarter and half-time intervals, including an impressive stint during the second quarter that actually forced the USA to sub their pressing lineup off and go back to their original 5. Yeah, the same pressing lineup that took away every single game in the Rio Paralympics, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen torn apart badly enough that the coaches had to change their rotations earlier than planned.
Ahead by 5 at half-time, GB came out of the break a half-step slow and mine and Ben’s WhatsApp chat started to get very nervy. The USA have been an incredibly dangerous post-halftime team all tournament, and down-stretch of 5 minutes against them can spell doom for anyone. Coach Haj made his one sub (!) of the whole game at this point, bringing George in for Lee, in a pretty bold move seeing as Lee had been dominating the USA inside up to this point. Turns out that sub was a half-decent move, as George dropped 17 points in the next 17 minutes. Game.
That’s the short version, but I think the general outline of this game is that it took probably the best game of three of the guy’s international careers, at the same time, along with the rest of the team being unbreakably solid for 40 full minutes, to beat the reigning Paralympic Champions. I watched special group of players play a special game of basketball today, against a team that was the undisputed best in the world just over a week ago. Gold.
The Coffee Saga
Now down to the most important result of the last two weeks, who is buying the coffees next season? Well, it’s me, Ben. Yup, after turning on the T.V to see Australia leading Iran by 16 I was feeling pretty confident. However, the late run from Iran taking them to within 11 meant Mark’s call of 8 was closer than mine of 16. A three point margin was enough to be the closest call of the day. So, congratulations Mark, I hope you enjoy a seasons worth of free coffees. For me, it’s time to invest in shares in Costa and find that reward card.
Mark & Ben’s All-Star 5
While we know the official quintet has already been announced (Shout-out to Gregg!), we want to do our own one, because we’ve both grown to love the fact that this series of articles let’s us just consider our own opinions to be the right ones. So, here we go:
1.0 – Jannik Blair (AUS) – Argentina’s Gustavo Villafañe was a worthy pick for the real deal, but Jannik played heavy minutes and was rock-solid game-in and game-out for the bronze medalists. Gotta reward that.
2.0 – Gregg Warburton (GB) – Gets All-Star 5 at every tournament he ever goes to, and was also the top scorer on the World Champs. Next.
2.5 – Jake Williams (USA) – The one exception to America’s deep, rotation-heavy roster, Jake logged 40 minutes in both the semi-final and the final, and every defender on the floor panicked when he caught the ball. GB’s Harry Brown could well have gotten the nod here, but Jake deserves the credit for carrying his team at times.
3.0 – Phil Pratt (GB) – We’re at the point now where it’s virtually impossible for Phil to not have a great tournament. If anything, his performance in this World Championships will probably go underappreciated because of the incredible performances put on by his teammates at various points. But this guy is the one true engine of the World Champions, and none of this would have been possible without his quietly spectacular performances in every single game.
4.0 – Omid Hadiazhar (IRI) – Iran put themselves on the map this tournament, and any one of their ‘Big 3’ could have made a legitimate case to crack our All-Star 5 right here. We’re going with Omid simply because his presence on the court seemed to have the most impact, and him being in the game seemed to most commonly coincide with one of Iran’s destructive runs. That, and you can never say ‘Hadiazhar’ enough times.
Favourite Moment of the Tournament:
Ben: First all of, I have enjoyed every single moment of the Worlds. There are however a couple of stand out moments for me:
- The women’s team winning silver. Having been around Sheffield for the past year, I have witnessed first hand how hard these girls have worked. The long days, gruelling sessions and detailed video analysis has all been worth it. They have shown the world that they are a force and come Tokyo 2020 they will be a favourite for that gold. Credit to not only the girls, but coaches Miles and Dan, physio Laura and all the team and the EIS Sheffield.
- Close games. There have been so many close games this tournament, which has made me frantically look for my phone in order to text Mark to tell him what’s going down. Who doesn’t love a close game?
- The quality of basketball. It has been immense, high scoring games, defensive lockdowns, players shooting the light out, it’s had it all. If you didn’t love the sport already, you do now. Fact.
Mark: Like Ben, I cannot possibly narrow this tournament down to one favourite moment (non-’GB-become-world-champions’ division), so let’s recap a few:
- Men’s Round of 16 – Turkey vs Netherlands – Ozgur Gurbulak struggled with his shot for 35 minutes, missing shots that would usually be money in the bank for Turkey. His cold stretch had him, and his team, well and truly rattled in a close game that threatened to end their tournament early. The Turkish coach made a bold decision to take Ozgur out of the game (this literally NEVER happens) for a minute, to let him clear his head. Gurbulak subbed back in a minute later, with his team down 5, and goes on to splash 3 consecutive 3-pointers to pull the game out for Turkey. The Turks seem to have had (and embraced) the label as the ‘villains’ of international wheelchair basketball, with every team desperate to put one over on them. Even with that label, you have to appreciate them in moments like this. Class is permanent.
- Men’s QF – Great Britain vs Spain – After sitting on the bench and letting the young guns run most of the close-fought quarter-final game against the Spanish, Terry Bywater plays some huge 4th quarter minutes and drives the final nail into the coffin with a dagger 3 in the final minute. Cold-blooded shot from one of the most clutch players the game has ever seen, all the sweeter that it came against a Spanish team mainly built on his club teammates from CD Ilunion.
- Men’s QF – Iran vs Turkey – One of the best back-and-forth games I have ever seen, between two teams who weren’t exactly shy when it came to showing their emotions. A signature win for an up-and-coming Iranian team, who beat Turkey at their own, ultra-intense, game. If you ever needed to explain to somebody what makes wheelchair basketball great, just pick literally any clip from this game.
- Women’s SF – Great Britain vs Germany – Ben’s got this one already. History.
- Men’s Final – Great Britain vs USA – Just go watch the video. I can’t make this game sound as good as it was.
But there was one special moment throughout the whole tournament. That actually did not take place until the final 1 minute of competition. Watching from home, the feeling of emotions as I watched the lads realise they are World Champions. Seeing the celebrations, the tears of happiness and the astonishment was amazing. These guys put everything on the line in that final, playing the best 40 minutes of basketball I have seen a GB team play. The whole team; coaches, players, physio, team managers etc have all played their part in what was an incredible tournament for Team GB. One Gold. One Silver. One huge future.
That does it for us. Writing this series has been a blast and we’re both so glad we got involved. We really hope everyone has enjoyed it as much as we have!
Until next time,
Ben & Mark