Amjyot Singh driving to the basket. Credits: FIBA.com

Sports fans who tuned in to the FIBA Asia Cup 2017 on Sunday night were treated to a glimpse of the future of Indian basketball, and it was a spectacle: slick passing, knock-down shooting, solid hustle, and speedy transition. There was drama too, as Syria wiped away a 19-point deficit in the second half, and eventually beat India 87 – 78. What was that about?

The Indian team that turned up to play in the first half looked completely different from anything we had seen in the first two games. They looked listless and flat in the first two games, but here they came out with urgency and purpose.

They were doing a much better job of penetrating the paint, typified by a number of occasions where Amjyot Singh drew the defenders towards him and dished to Amritpal under the basket. The team was coming together nicely, as they racked up 15 assists.

At halftime, India had scored 51 points and went into the break with a 16 point lead. The offensive performance was spurred by 8 three-pointers from TJ Singh, Annadurai, and Amjyot. The Indians were shooting the ball with such confidence that even the contested shots were hitting the bottom of the net.

Game of two halves

The second half began in similar vein as Annadurai stepped up to hit India’s ninth three of the game. That extended the lead to 19 points – their largest of the night – but everything began to unravel from there.

On the next play, Madanly’s shot bounced off the rim, and Todorovic easily tipped the ball in over a lethargic Amritpal. Those were the first signs of the Indian men slacking on intensity.

Sensing vulnerability, the Syrians went in for the kill. Madanly and Aljabi forged a 12 – 0 run by driving to the basket at every opportunity, and drawing the contact or dishing to a teammate for the open looks.

They were also devastating on transition: every time the Indians forced an outside shot, it allowed the Syrian guards to break quickly and finish the long pass off the boards.

Head coach Phil Weber had no answer except to call a timeout, screaming that “they’re a second half team!”

 

What went wrong?

Amritpal Singh looks to make his free throw. Credits: FIBA.com

At the moment, the Indian team is too one-dimensional. They lack an outlet in the post that they can rely on when the outside shots are not falling. Amritpal Singh racked up a double-double, but his post play was sporadic and weak. On offence, he was in the right place a few times; but defensively he could not stop Todorovic and the Syrians from grabbing the offensive boards and accumulating second chance points. This turned out to be a key factor in the loss, as Syria had 58 points in the paint, 38 points more than India.

India exit the tournament having performed well short of expectations, and disappointed with the manner in which they lost their composure in the second half. They repeatedly forgot to use the clock, and shot the ball within seconds of receiving it. Unfortunately, their shots weren’t falling with the same frequency as the first half, allowing Syria to grab the rebounds and capitalise on the break.

Nevertheless, the game against Syria was a huge improvement over the underwhelming offensive performances in the first two games. With Vishesh missing because of injury and Amjyot scoring fewer than usual, the emergence of Aravind Annadurai and the confident cameos from seventeen-year old point guard Bala were encouraging signs for the team.

There is no doubt that the Indian team will be hurting from the despair of losing a game that they led for 33 minutes and by as many as 19 points, but it will only serve to stoke their desire to win. They will be rearing to go when they play Syria in the World Cup Qualifiers later this year, and hopefully we will witness the Indian team that turned up in the first half. Jai Hind!

 

Syria (Ivan Todorovic 23 pts, 14 rebs; Micheal Madanly 18 pts; Tarek Aljabi 18 pts) bt India (Aravind Annadurai 20 pts; Amritpal Singh 17 pts, 13 rebs; Amjyot Singh Gill 17 pts) 87 – 78 [17 – 25, 18 – 26, 25 – 17, 27 – 10]

 

About the FIBA Asia Cup 2017

The FIBA Asia Cup 2017 is being played in Lebanon from 8-20 August 2017. For the first time, the tournament features Oceanian powerhouses Australia and New Zealand, as sixteen teams battle for top honours in Asia.

India is in Group A, along with Jordan, Syria, and three-time Asian champions Iran. The remaining groups comprise the following teams: Iraq, China, Philippines, and Qatar (Group B); Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Korea, and New Zealand (Group C); and Japan, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, and Australia (Group D).

The top three teams from each group will advance to the second phase, where they will be divided into two groups of six teams each (Groups E and F). The top four teams from each of these groups will advance to the quarterfinals.

Official tournament website: www.fiba.com/asiacup/2017

Nitesh Daryanani
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