India overcame a double-digit deficit vs Palestine to win 79-77 and keep their FIBA Asia Cup qualifying dream alive. Palestine will now play Saudi Arabia on 22 Aug in the game which will decide which of the three teams qualify from Group H.
Here are 5 takeaways from this contest-
1. Dramatic comeback
India were initially scheduled to play the first and last game in this window of the FIBA Asia Cup. A change in schedule had India play Saudi Arabia on 20th, and then face Palestine the next day who would be playing their first game in the contest. Playing on tired legs vs a fresh opponent, instead of running out of steam, India found an extra gear in the 4th quarter, scoring 26 points while giving up just 14 as they completed the comeback, after playing for most of the game down by double digits.
With 53 seconds left in the game and India leading 76-71, Sahaij Sekhon got a defensive rebound and instead of running the clock down, recognized the advantage and raced ahead to sink a layup while being fouled. That gave India a 78-71 lead.
Palestine almost tied the game with a layup attempt by the legendary Sani Sakakini, but Amritpal's defense forced a miss and Amjyot secured the rebound as time ran out.
2. Monster game from Amritpal Singh
Amritpal had an off night vs Saudi Arabia by his standards. Although he finished with 9 points and 9 rebounds, he shot 2 of 10 from the field. On the second night of a back-to-back, he was a man on a mission vs Palestine as he completely imposed his will inside, scoring in every way you can expect from a 6'10" player. Fadeaways, jump hooks, turnarounds, over the shoulder, layup while falling down, spinning hooks, off of pin downs, and more. He single-handedly kept India in the game, even as India forced a few turnovers trying to force the ball down low to the big man.
After the game vs Saudi Arabia, Coach Veselin Matić said of Amritpal, "If you don't play for a year, if you cannot practice, it is difficult to get going. We expected too much from him, even though he had a strong camp. He's a good player and he will come back. For us the main story is to forget about the game, take experience from it and play a good game tomorrow."
Come back strong he did as he finished with 30 points and 12 rebounds, silencing the doubters.
3. By the quarters
India started the game by working the ball inside, with Amjyot and Amritpal scoring from the post. Kyndall Dykes of Palestine came hot out of the gate, scoring 7 early points as Palestine led 12-7 at the 5-minute mark in the first quarter. Sani Sakakini forced India to call a timeout with a pair of 3-pointers as he scored 8 early points to give Palestine a 10-point lead with 17-7. Palestine had it going from downtown in the 1st quarter, shooting a blistering 5/9 to power ahead to a 25-13 lead at the end of the 1st quarter. India missed all 7 of their 3-pointers, but stayed in the game making 5 free throws to 0 for Palestine. The duo of Kyndall Dykes and Sani Sakakini combined for 20 points for Palestine in the first Q.
Amritpal opened the 2nd quarter for India with a jump hook in the paint as he led India with 8 points and kept the pressure on. India cut the deficit to 29-21 at the halfway mark in the quarter as they hung in the game by scoring in the paint with Amritpal, Amjyot and Annadurai. Amritpal was a man on a mission as he put up 12 points and 9 rebounds in the first half. A pair of three-pointers from Joginder kept the game close as Palestine led India 46-36 at the half, with 17 points from Dykes and 14 from Sakakini.
Dykes looked to help Palestine pull away to start the 3rd with a pair of buckets, but Amritpal scored 7 quick points in the first three minutes to keep India in it. Amjyot came alive in the 3rd quarter, going inside time and time again to either draw the foul or finish inside. Dykes helped Palestine keep the lead as they led 61-52 at the end of the 3rd quarter.
India started the 4th quarter with a sense of purpose and desperation. The pressure defense forced Palestine in taking tough shots and India corralled the defensive rebounds this time to keep chipping away at the lead. Joginder, Amjyot and Amritpal came up big for India as the trio finished with 65 points combined as India completed their comeback.
4. Three-headed spear lanced through the deficit for India
Amritpal and Amjyot finished with double-doubles, with Amritpal pulling down 12 rebounds and Amjyot taking 10 boards to go with his 23 points. Joginder Singh was the other player for India in double figures as he finished with 12 points, making four 3-pointers. Vishesh Bhriguvanshi led India with 7 assists to add to his two points and 5 rebounds as he focused on facilitating the hot hand for India.
5. Tight rotation gets it done for India
As the stakes get higher, rotations get tighter. India leaned heavily on Amjyot and Amritpal, with both Ludhiana Basketball Academy alumni playing over 35 minutes. Joginder and Sekhon put in work with 33 and 31 minutes respectively, while Vishesh's steadying presence for 29 minutes rounded up the five who played the bulk of the game for India. Aravind Annadurai and Muin Baig played 12 and 13 minutes as the lineup focused on putting Amjyot and Amritpal in position to score with three guards around them.
The FIBA Asia Cup dream is alive and well for India, tune in to Livebasketball.tv to see Saudi Arabia take on Palestine tomorrow to decide which two teams go through.