Before tip-off, members of the SMART-Gilas Pilipinas national team gave their rivals from Iran dried mango packages as part of the traditional friendly exchange at center court.
The Iranian basketball players proceeded to throw the gifts from the Philippine team to the crowd.
But it was the two-time defending champions who received a rude awakening after the opening tip, as SMART-Gilas shocked the Iranians with a dominant 73-59 win at the start of the 2011 Jones Cup campaign Saturday in Taipei.
Naturalized player Marcus Douthit outplayed his counterpart, NBA veteran Hamed Haddadi, Japeth Aguilar showed solid presence on the defensive end while small men Mark Barroca and JV Casio played bigger than their size as the Filipinos pulled off a king-size upset over what had been the best national team in Asia for the past several years.
Douthit, a former draftee of the Los Angeles Lakers, finished with 24 points and 11 rebound, and for at least one game, proved to be a better fit with his team than Haddadi.
Haddadi has spent the past three seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies, but his re-entry to the team looked like it might have disrupted the Iranian team’s chemistry.
Apart from playing solid defense on the 7-foot-2 Iranian, Douthit was also able to beat his counterpart off the dribble on several occasions.
At one point, Douthit found himself isolated against Haddadi and breezed by the slower Iranian center for a nifty baseline move.
Douthit’s presence coupled by Aguilar’s tenacity on the defensive end energized the rest of the Filipinos, who also got solid support from the countrymen who trooped to the Sinjhuang Stadium in New Taipei City to cheer for the team.
Aguilar, an ultra-athletic 6-foot-10 forward, swatted five attempts and proved to be an intimidating force inside the shaded lane.
The Filipino defense was so solid that for a seven-minute stretch in the third period, Iran was held to just a single field goal.
With Douthit and Aguilar taking care of business down low, the SMART-Gilas guards were able to run their rivals to the ground. Two thundering dunks from Douthit and Aguilar pushed the Philippine team ahead, 54-38, heading into the fourth quarter.
The Iranians battled back in the final period to cut the lead to eight, 54-62. But six straight points by Casio and Chris Tiu put the game away for SMART-Gilas.
Iran, which swept the competition last year, seemed to take the Filipinos lightly. The possible upset looked imminent as early as the first period when SMART-Gilas opened the match with a quick 9-2 run. A jumper by Barroca gave the Philippines to a 15-7 lead at the 4:26 mark.
Haddadi came off the bench midway through the first period to give the Iranians a semblance of control, but the Filipinos were able to take away whatever advantage the behemoth had by ganging up on him.
Although Haddadi was able to produce 25 points, the rest of his squad were not able to make significant contribution, with only Mahdi Kamrani scoring in double-figures with 18 points.
SMART Gilas-Pilipinas (73) – Douthit 24, Barroca 13, Casio 11, Baracael 8, Aguilar 6, Tiu 4, Lassiter 3, Hontiveros 2, Taulava 2, Lutz 0, Ababou 0.
Iran (59) – Haddadi 25, Kamrani 18, Davarpanahfard 7, Sohrabnejad 3, Veisi 2, Kardoust 2, Nabipoor 2, Davari 0, Davoudichegani 0, Barogh 0.
Quarterscores: 17-12; 37-30; 54-38; 73-59.
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