India was ranked 61st in World FIBA ranking and China was 12th in 2014, during the FIBA Asia Cup Basketball Championship when they managed to overcome history itself to defeat the hosts (65-58), for the very first time. Admittedly, this was a surprise to almost everybody who has been witness to Indian basketball. Scott Flemming though, who was the Coach of the India team at the time said that calling it a “surprise win” would take away from the fact that his players deserved it. This was a moment where the Indian Men’s team had actualized the potential that they had displayed and collapsed the wave function, as it were.

But what actually transpired in this game? While China expectedly did many things right, the hustle and heart of the Indian team eventually won out in the end. Here are 15 key talking points: [All short videos have been culled out from the FIBA Asia youtube video, purely for the purpose of review/analysis, which we believe falls under the ‘fair use’ exception to standard copyright laws. So no infringement intended.]

#1 Half- Court Pressure

The Chinese guards almost always picked up their man at the half court after which they would often double them and trap them, significantly raising the risk of turnovers.

You can see the primary ball-handler in the above play being played first by one defender. The second joins in and traps him, forcing a turnover. All these short video clips have been culled from the full match video that is available on FIBA Asia’s YouTube channel.

#2 Fouling at the Three-Point Line

Chinese bigs got caught on switches on the perimeter. To add to their woes, they often did not display the lateral mobility to keep up with the Indian guards and ended up fouling at the three-point line twice.

A screen forces a switch and when the guards moves to the top of the key, the Chinese big has to rotate over to pick him up and contest the shot. He fouls on the 3-point shot and India shoots free throws.

#3 Indian Defensive Rotation

The Indian team often did not handle defensive assignments well and players would often get caught looking away from their man. One such incident of ball watching resulted in a backdoor cut, though China did not manage to make it count.

Bhriguvanshi (#9) gets caught ball watching and lets Zhao (#4) cut to the basket, where he promptly fumbles the ball away.

#4 Sticky Ball

The India offense was often labored, with the ball often sticking with the ball handler. When a series of dribble- hand offs would not yield an open look, India would often have to force up shots in the second half of the 24 second shot clock. Statistically, these possessions have always been bad ones.

The shot-clock (seen in red on the far left) winds down on this Indian possession and Bhriguvanshi (#9) jacks up a three. He was 25% (1 of 4) from beyond the arc for the game.

#5 Chinese Fighting Screens

The Chinese defense was incredibly tight, and did not allow Indian players to get open. They chased them around screens and always either managed to deny them the pass or make sure they did not get even a glimmer of daylight to either get a shot off or to make a play.

You can see Chinese defenders fighting through screens and closing- out before Indian players got within range.  More often than not they went under the screen, daring India to take the long shot. India shot 21.7% from 3-point territory, and were only marginally better than China who shot 21.1%.

#6 Chinese Penetration

The Chinese guards did a good job of coming off the screens set by their bigs and penetrating. This allowed them to hand off the ball closer to the basket when their screeners rolled to the rim (which they did on occasion), and even kick out when their shooters were open.

In the first clip, you see the Chinese guard split the defense, get to the paint and kick- out, setting his man up with an excellent shot. The second shows an excellent offensive position on the part of the Chinese. The two bigs come up from high- post and flash for a screen and roll to the rim. Zhao (#4) then finds the roll man for an easy dunk.

#7 Transition Game

China had their transition game figured out. Their players would push the ball up the floor after they secured a rebound and this led to a few easy baskets. Additionally, the Chinese bigs kept up with their backcourt counterparts and would always fill the driving lanes on every fast break opportunity.

On the fast- break, you can see Q. Zhou (#15) trailing the play perfectly and filling the driving lanes. His mobility allows him to get the ball and he uses his momentum to get to the basket.

#8 Bad Hands and Good Hands

The Chinese had more success playing through their bigs at times because they were better passers. Indian players on the other hand threw many passes that were risky and which resulted in turnovers.

A bad pass gets intercepted. On balance, the Indian bigs had much lesser success in passing the ball than their Chinese counterparts.

#9 Getting your Man Open

China ran a play for a three-point shot that involved running a guard from the weak side through two screens that would get him open for a three. This resulted in some very good looks, but they did not manage to shoot the ball very efficiently from three-point range.

Makan (#10) sets a down- screen to get Wang (#5) the ball at the top of the key. He then runs through two screens to get open on the weak- side and receives the ball. The second clip is a variant of the action, and you can see Joginder Singh (#4) get lost in the motion and loses his man. He realizes this a little too late and the action results in a 3-pointer.

#10 A Big Man’s Game

The Indian and Chinese bigs both did things which worked for them and didn’t work for them. The Indian bigs managed to rebound the ball a lot better than their Chinese counterparts. They managed to box-out a lot better. They were also a lot more aggressive under the basket. Chinese bigs were often put on an island by the Indian defense when they had the ball. This resulted in precious seconds off the shot clock for China and added up to good defensive possessions by India.

Tao (#13) gets the ball and looks to pass it up, only to find every man on the floor being guarded heavily. This turns into a forced offensive possession where he throws up a bad shot near the rim.

#11 The Indian Bigs

The Indian bigs played an incredible game, boxing out their sometimes taller Chinese counterparts. Though India only had 1 rebound over China (42-41), they had 8 more offensive boards than China (23-15). Though India did shoot much poorer from 2-pt range and just marginally better from beyond the arc, offensive boards afforded them second chance points that tipped the scales in their favor. For further evidence of the importance of crashing the offensive glass, you just need to look at rebounding numbers in every loss that the 2015-2016 Golden State Warriors have endured. Literally the “winningest” team in NBA history.

Amjyot Singh commands position under the basket and gets an offensive board and a putback. This was the key to India’s fortunes.

#12 Fourth Quarter Freeze Out

Bhriguvanshi hit at the buzzer to bring India closer to victory. Going into the 4th quarter, India was down two points (48-50). In the 4th quarter, India outscored the hosts 17-8. Right out of the gates in the 4th quarter, India looked much more confident and just looked like they wanted it more. That last point is difficult to really put into words that make sense, but well defended possessions, some stellar play by the Indian Captain Briguvanshi, the now iconic alley-oop dunk by Amjyot and a clutch 3- pointer by Pratham Singh, which gave India the lead, sealed the deal and put the game out of reach.

In the first clip, we see a well drawn up play to get Amjyot Singh to the rim for a bucket. Joginder Singh (#4) seals off his man and gets him into the paint. When Amjyot cuts to the basket, you can see his man being sealed off by Joginder. Note the bench reaction. They’re loving it. In the second clip you can see Pratham Singh (#8) hitting a 3 in his defenders face. He added to this with another shot from beyond the arc to give India a 4 point lead with just about 5 minutes left to play.

#13 The Intangibles

As noted by our columnist Karan Madhok in his coverage of the game, there were a lot of intangibles going into this. China was on their home court, both teams were playing with younger and relatively more inexperienced squads. This in a sense might have come down in India’s favor, since as the average age of the Indian team was around 25 years of age, they might have been able to go into this game without any of the baggage that might have affected older players. Going into the 4th quarter and being down 2 points would have meant a more than uneasy situation for India, and having the mental and physical tools to stay the course, making crucial shots and forcing turnovers worked in the favor of the visitors.

# 14 The Final Seconds

Going into about 2 minutes left in the 4th quarter, India was 1 point down. After a great defensive possession at the 1:00 minute mark, India forces China to turn the ball over. Out of bounds, in the huddle, Coach Flemming reiterates that this is not the time to foul and to not contest shots too heavily- “Let them play themselves out of the game”. On an inbound pass, with 30 seconds left, China has to foul so that India does not take any more time off the clock and with 12.5 seconds left on the clock, China has a 12 point deficit that they cannot possibly overcome.

# 15 Overall

The game that China and India played was a lot more inside out than the NBA game, for example. Both teams ran the ball through their bigs on multiple possessions and this allowed them to get multiple touches on the ball. The ball moved well for the most part, although India did take many shots that were not very high percentage looks. The long- 2 point shot that often comes out of isolation plays was nearly non- existent. In fact neither team really played iso ball a lot. China also did extremely well in motion off the ball. They cut, got open and set good screens. India had 17 turnovers to the 24 by China and handled the ball better than China, which was a reversal of fortunes coming off the loss to Japan where they turned the ball over 24 times.

The key to the game were the Indian bigs who did a tremendous job of crashing the boards, boxing out for rebounds and blocking many shots. Even though they sometimes did a lacklustre job on the offensive end, their effort won out in the end. Another significant point is the fact that India had 11 assists against the Chinese 6. Of course, all of this really pales in comparison to the fact that India finally broke the “Losing-to-China” rut, and more importantly took care of business on China’s home floor. India played a grind-and-grind type game, playing tough in the paint and maintaining a steady defensive identity and in my opinion, this was a really good look for the team and it was something that obviously worked well.  Even though the 2015 FIBA Asia Cup might not have yielded a more favorable result, this was a significant game, and marked a new chapter in Indian basketball.

You can watch the game in it’s entirety below, on the FIBA YouTube Channel:

The box-score of the game can be viewed here.

Anirudh Rangarajan
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