For the second time in five days, Okinawa has borne witness to yet another extraordinary moment in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023.
Facing a dire situation in the last quarter, Japan orchestrated another miraculous comeback, this time astonishing Venezuela with a remarkable 86-77 come-from-behind victory, bringing them closer to securing a return trip to the Olympics on Wednesday.
Similar to their attention-grabbing upset against Finland the previous Sunday, the Akatsuki found themselves trailing in the final frame, this time by a 15-point deficit.
Empowered by an enthusiastic sold-out crowd, Japan mounted a resilient charge to stun their opponents.
Makoto Hiejima stepped up in the clutch, sinking a crucial three-pointer that handed the Akatsuki a two-possession lead of 82-77, with only 47 seconds remaining in regulation.
Subsequently, Japan continued their surge with a 4-0 burst, capped off by a Yuki Kawamura layup, firmly securing the victory on their home turf. They outscored Venezuela by an impressive 33-15 margin in the decisive quarter.
Japan, ranked 36th in the world, also capitalized on 26 fast break points, a pivotal factor in their comeback.
Hiejima amassed 23 points, while Yuta Watanabe of the Phoenix Suns contributed 21 points and eight rebounds. Yuki Kawamura also played a crucial role in the comeback with 19 points.
On the Venezuelan side, Garly Sojo led the scoring with 20 points, and Nestor Colmenares added 17 points.
With this victory, Japan has ascended to the top of the Asian rankings in the race to Paris, sporting a 2-2 record. This result virtually extinguished the chances of China, Lebanon, Jordan, and Iran from advancing, as all four nations would require substantial margins to surpass Japan.
At the time of this publication, the Philippines and South Sudan are still engaged in an ongoing match.
In the preceding game, Lauri Markkanen caught fire, amassing 34 points as Finland clinched its first victory in the tournament by dominating Cape Verde, 100-77.
The Utah Jazz star also secured nine rebounds, delivering a near-double-double performance that elevated the Wolfpack to the second spot in Group O’s classification round.
Leading by three points, 16-13, with under four minutes remaining in the opening quarter, the 24th-ranked world team gained early momentum by igniting a 12-3 run. This enabled them to conclude the first quarter with a commanding 28-16 advantage.
The Wolfpack extended their lead further during the second quarter, finishing the first half with a dominant 54-39 lead. The margin remained above the 20-point mark throughout the game.
Miro Little was the sole player besides Markkanen to achieve double-digit points for Finland, scoring 10 points.
For Cape Verde, Ivan Almeida spearheaded the offense with 17 points, while Anderson Correia and Edy Tavares contributed 15 and 14 points, respectively.
Notably, bench points highlighted Finland’s performance, with role players contributing 37 points, while Cape Verde managed only nine. The Wolfpack’s lead swelled to as much as 25 points. (Jose Gabriel Ignacio)
Finland 100 — Markkanen 34, Little 10, Maxhuni 9, Salin 9, Seppala 8, Nkamhoua 7, Madsen 7, Grandison 6, Jantunen 6, Valtonen 4, Kantonen 0, Murphy 0
Cape Verde 77 — I. Almeida 17, Correia 15, E. Tavares 14, B. Gomes 12, W. Tavares 10, K. Gomes 3, Mendes 2, Lima 2, Da Rosa 2, J. Almeida 0, Mendonca 0
Quarterscores: 28-16, 54-39, 77-56, 100-77
Japan 86 — Hiejima 23, Watanabe 21, Kawamura 19, Hawkinson 6, Tominaga 5, Baba 5, Yoshii 4, Togashi 3, Nishida 0, Hara 0, Kawamata 0
Venezuela 77 — Sojo 20, Colmenares 17, Zamora 12, Guillent 10, Sifontes 6, Materan 4, Chourio 3, Cubillan 3, Graterol 0
Quarterscores: 15-19, 36-41, 53-62, 86-77