Another day, another set of amazing entertaining games in the Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017 and now we have our finalists for the main event on the final day!
Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017: Day 4
7th Place Ranking Game: Kano Pillars (Nigeria) vs Fubon Braves (Chinese Taipei)
It was the final game for both teams who were trying to salvage a seventh place ranking from this tournament. The Fubon Braves already had a remarkable victory over K.K. Split earlier in the group stages, while the Kano Pillars had gone winless so far.
The Fubon Braves were quick to pounce on the Kano Pillars, jumping out to a 12-2 lead after a three-point shot by Joseph Lin. They were unlucky to have dropped all the way down to the 7th place qualification game and were quick to display that they had much more talent than their actual standing in the group. Fubon rained in four three-pointers in first quarter to control a 22-10 lead.
Despite holding on to a sizable lead, Coach Hsu Chin Che refused to slow down and applied a full-court press on the Pillars. Halfway through the second quarter, Fubon’s speed and intensity had resulted in a 42-19 lead. The Pillars were able to speed up with the Braves sending in their substitutes, but still trailed at halftime 47-29.
Kao Chien Yi maintained his outstanding shooting form in the third quarter adding in three more three pointers to push the Braves lead to 81-52 at the end of the third quarter.
With 5 players scoring in double digits, the Braves complete their rally from start to finish beating the Kano Pillars 107-68 to secure 7th place in the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017.
Player of the Game: Kao Chien Yi
23 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 7-9 3P shooting
Chien Yi saved his best game for last by raining it down on the woeful Kano Pillars team and what a performance it was indeed.
5th Place Ranking Game: Link Tochigi Brex (Japan) vs Guangzhou Long Lions (China)
Both Tochigi and Guangzhou had won their last game in the group stages, but it wasn’t enough to get further on in the tournament. They were left pitted against each other for 5th place.
The Japanese side Link Tochigi Brex had wrapped up a gut wrenching game against another Chinese team less than 24 hours ago. They’d have to be at the top of their game to beat another strong Chinese team, Guangzhou Long Lions, to salvage a 5th place finish here in the Seri Mutiara Cup.
Guangzhou started the game better and jumped to a 6-0 run but Tochigi Brex gathered themselves quickly enough to end the first quarter with an 18-17 lead.
The Long Lions had a huge 28-point second quarter thanks to a quartet of threes. Ju Ming Xin shined brightly in the first half with 12 points on a perfect 6/6 shooting. The Brex could have been down by more than the halftime score of 42-37 but had Kyle Richardson and his 10 points to keep them in the game.
The Brex had been struggling to keep up with the Long Lions’ physical play and it led to them being on the wrong end of a 9-2 run midway through the third quarter. James Tucker fired a three-point shot nearing the end of the third quarter only to have Shusuke Ikuhara return the favor. The third quarter wrapped up with the Long Lions up 62-52.
With their last chance for the victory on the line, the Brex started the final quarter on fire. The man of the hour, Shusuke Ikuhara, pulled off a nasty crossover en route to a wide open layup to cap off an 8-0 run with his 19th point of the game. Ryan Rossiter floated in a shot on the next play out of the timeout to complete the comeback and tied the game at 62. Cedric Bozeman’s inspiring play was the main factor in the Brex’s run and he was finally able to put his team in the lead with less than 5 minutes to go in the game. Exactly at the 2 minute mark, Yuta Tabuse dropped in a poetic lofting floater to expand the Brex’s lead to 73-68. The Guangzhou Long Lions had their share of opportunities to close the gap, but the fate of the basketball gods were not in their favor.
Link Tochigi Brex finishes in 5th place of the Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017 with a 77-74 win over the Guangzhou Long Lions.
Player of the Game: Shusuke Ikuhara
20 points, 6-8 FG shooting, 2-3 3P shooting
Ikuhara’s scoring was a much needed boost of the bench for the Brex and his shots changed momentum for his team. His epic crossover leading to a game-changing layup will be fondly remembered.
Semi-Finals Game 1: Beijing BRBC (China) vs NS Matrix (Malaysia)
It was the most anticipated matchup of the day, pitting the home team NS Matrix against the superstar loaded Beijing BRBC. The crowd’s flocked to the stadium on the Malaysia National Day to root for players and teams.
“The crowd was tremendous,” Coach Brian Lester said after the game. “It was great to hear so much noise coming from the fans and that helped our players as well. Malaysia boleh.”
Shavlik Randoplh started the game with 6 straight points for Beijing BRBC as the two teams checked each other out. Beijing raced out to a 22-11 lead after 5 straight points by Zaid Abbas with NS Matrix struggling to find clear shots at the basket. Fan-favorite Jeff Viernes brought the crowd to life with 5 straight points to end the first quarter, NS Matrix still trailing 24-16.
NS Matrix rode that wave of momentum to start the second quarter with a 7-0 run in a little over a minute. Even after Beijing BRBC were able to get on the board, the tempo of the game had completely shifted to the home team. Matrix finally took a 29-28 lead on a corner three by Keith Hornsby about 4 minutes into the second quarter. Chin Min Yang stepped up his scoring responsibility in today’s game and added a three pointer for Beijing to give them a 38-33 lead. Randolph then took over by sniping from long range, scoring 11 points to put Beijing up 49-39. They had weathered the early storm from the home team and now held a 51-41 going into the halftime locker room.
The teams went into a stall during the first 5 minutes of third quarter, trading basket for basket in a 57-47 game. Just as NS Matrix had closed in to 61-54, He Qi Teng and Stephon Marbury both dropped threes to quickly push it back out to an 11 point lead. After another quarter, NS Matrix had yet to make any ground in their deficit and were down 69-58 with only one more period to comeback and seal a return to the Seri Mutiara Cup Finals.
Once again, NS Matrix came out of the break strong with 9 straight points from Keith Hornsby cutting the lead down to 69-67 within less than two minutes. Beijing were left without an answer and had to call a timeout to cool things down. Another three by Hornsby cut the lead down to 71-70, but Chin Min Yang instantly answered with a three of his own to keep Beijing up ahead. When NS Matrix cut down the lead to one point for a second time, it was again Chin Min Yang who quietly drilled in a triple to silence the riled up crowd.
Matrix finally succeed in overtaking the lead at 81-80 when Hornsby scored his 20th point of the quarter.
The cheers didn’t last long as Beijing retaliated to take an 86-82 lead on a basket by Zaid Abbas off a beautiful dish from Chin Min Yang. NS Matrix stormed back once again to tie the game up, but Randolph silenced the crowd for another time with a dunk off a hustle rebound. Stephon Marbury piled on the pressure even more, penetrating for a layup to give Beijing the 90-86 lead with a little over 2 minutes left in the game.
NS Matrix suffered another blow when John Avila picked up his 5th personal foul with less than one minute to go. Shavlik Randolph was not able to make NS Matrix pay and missed the two free throws resulting from Avila’s foul. Shu Long Yu then picked up an unsportsmanlike foul as NS Matrix were rushing up the court and after Viernes sank the two free throws, we were suddenly at a 90-88 game with 50.8 seconds to go
Viernes brought the crowd to their feet by hitting a fade away jumper to tie the game up at 90 with 40 seconds to go. After a turnover by Beijing, Viernes got another chance to be the hero of the game but unfortunately clanged the potential go-ahead basket. Shavlik Randolph iced the following two free-throws to give Beijing some breathing room at 92-90, but it was still only a one possession game. After another turnover by NS Matrix, Stephon Marbury was put to the line and sank both free throws to make it a 4-point game.
Bryson Fonville put in a three-point last-second heave with two seconds left, but Marbury would not miss the free throws as he went up to the line for a consecutive time.
Beijing held on to a 96-63 exciting win and would be heading to the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017 Finals.
“First of all, these guys made a great effort tonight,” Coach Ding Wei said after the game. “About the tactics, we can work on it. We needed spirit, this is what we have.
“It was a great challenge for us tonight both mentally and physically. [NS Matrix] played tough and you see how great they play, especially [Keith Hornsby]. We designed plays to stop him defensively but he still scored 38 points.”
Missing out on a trip to the finals was certainly disappointing for Coach Brian Lester, but he was still positive about what he saw.
“From our point of view, it was a terrific game,” Coach Lester said. “I was very happy with our players that were playing against a Beijing team that’s so tall, big, strong, and having good skills.”
“It was a great effort. It’s not easy for these guys to play full-court pressure defense when they’ve been playing for nearly 40 minutes but they gave the effort. All of the sudden, things were happening in our favor, and we started to make a run.”
“But [Beijing BRBC] have experience. They have Stephon Marbury, Shavlik Randolph, and Zaid Abbas so they have a lot of experience and they just held on in the end.”
“I don’t know if there’s much we could have done differently to be honest,” Coach Lester said about how he might have adjusted their gameplans. “Like I said, they had a large size advantage. They out-rebounded us by 15 rebounds in the game which is a big number. We had a hard time containing some of their big guys because the size difference is a lot but we made up with our speed and our hustle especially in the last quarter. We tried to get the tempo faster and it worked quite good for most of the quarter but in the end we just came up a bit short.”
Coach Ding Wei also agrees that his team did well in controlling the tempo of the game and that was a big factor for their victory.
“There are two ways for opponents to catch up: three pointers and fastbreak,” Coach Wei said. “At the beginning [of the fourth quarter] we were not making our shots and getting into our offensive flow. On defense, we tried to minimize their fastbreaks attempts and three-point attempts and that’s why we stayed in the game.”
“During the timeout, I told the players to be more patient in the offense, try to get it inside, and shoot high percentage shots. This way we limited the fastbreaks of the opponents. We controlled the tempo of the game and that’s why we won.”
Beijing BRBC will be heading to the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017 Finals against K.K. Split while NS Matrix will be playing in the third place game against Changwon LG Sakers.
“It doesn’t matter who will be heading into the finals,” Coach Wei says of the upcoming matchup. “Because they will be a strong team. It’s a bigger task for us [in the Finals] and we will try to find better ways to beat the opponents. It doesn’t matter about winning or losing, we’re just trying to make our team better. This is what we’re trying to achieve here in Malaysia.”
Coach Brian Lester might have a different approach in his team’s final game.
“It’s going to be very difficult because they gave everything here as you can see,” Coach Lester says of how his team will regroup after such an exhausting loss. “We didn’t rotate many players. We’re playing up for 3rd place and we’ll try and give our local players some more court time. Try to give them some experience and use that opportunity because 3rd place and 4th place is not too much of a difference.”
“We were going for the championship and we came up short but you have to say that we were terrific. It was a great game.”
Player of the Game: Chin Min Yang
25 Points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 5-9 3P shooting, 2 steals
The Taiwanese import had stepped back from the spotlight in the previous games, but shined brightly when it counted the most this game. His timely three point shooting and solid defensive plays were the main factor that his team will be playing for the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017 title.
Semi-Finals Game 2: K.K. Split (Croatia) vs Changwon LG Sakers (Korea)
With the last seat to the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017 up for grabs in this game, K.K. Split and the Changwon LG Sakers put everything they had on the court.
It wasn’t looking like a good day for K.K. Split who lost Pavle Marcinkovic to an injury barely 10 seconds in to the game.
“He sprained his ankle,” Assistant Coach Ante Grgurevic said after the game. “I saw him walking but I don’t know. It depends on him. Sometimes it’s all about players how long he can stand the pain if it’s not too bad. But I saw he can walk. Maybe with tape he can play a bit [tomorrow].”
“We miss him a lot. My opinion, he was our best player so far in this tournament. He does everything.”
The LG Sakers pounced on the opportunity and took a 7-2 lead, capped by a thunderous two-handed baseline slam from Justin Tubbs. The Sakers manged to hold on to their lead up until the tailend of the first quarter before Mike Scott tied the game up on a hanging jumpshot. Kim Jong Kyu got in a two-handed slam in the Sakers’ last possession of the quarter to put the Korean side up 20-18.
The second quarter started evenly from both teams, until Cho Sung Min heated up 3 minutes into the period scoring 5 straight points giving the Sakers a 28-22 advantage. K.K. Split attempted to make a run back into the game but the Sakers stood their ground. After two straight dunks from Kim Jong Kyu, the Korean squad were back up 36-27. The following play saw Josh Powell connect with Justin Tubbs for an unbelievable alleyooop slam worthy of a perfect 50 in a slam dunk competition. It seemed like nothing could slow the the Koreans, who had a commanding 42-31 lead at the end of the half.
K.K Split started picking their spots and jumped out to a 10-2 start in the half. With less than two minutes in the quarter, Henrik Sirko made a shot to make it a two point game, but Cho Sung Min fired back with a three point shot to stay up 56-51. Sirko had the last say in this quarter by raining in another three point shot to make the score 58-56 still in favor of the Sakers heading into the final period.
The two teams traded blows back and forth, taking turns holding the lead for a couple of seconds during the entire first 9 minutes of the fourth quarter. Neither team went up by more than 2 points during the entire period as the teams matched each other punch for punch. With one minute left in the game, the score was tied up once again at 74-74 before a costly turnover by Mate Kalajsic led to a Saker’s go-ahead basket. Out of the timeout, Mateo Kedzo pounded down in the post for a game-tying basket with less than 40 seconds to go.
The crowd was set for another dramatic finish in the Seri Mutiara Cup 2017.
The Sakers had the possession with the clock running down to less than 24 seconds, but Sirae Kim lost the ball which put the fate of the game in the hands of K.K. Split instead.
Mike Scott pounded the rock down to only 5 seconds before making his move towards the left hand side of the basket. With all the defense drawn towards him, Scott kicked out to Mate Kalajsic who then made the extra pass to Filip Navej. Even though Navej is not known as a long-range shooter, he drained the three-point shot almost just as the buzzer sounded.
“First of all, I must congratulate my team,” K.K. Split’s star player, Henrik Sirko said after the game. “It was a full 40 minutes that wasn’t easy because we have had some problems with injuries. Today we showed that we are great and that we are happy to win and we are happy to go to the Finals.”
Sirko had played limited minutes and missed games completely earlier in the tournament due to an injury, but played nearly 37 minutes today.
“I have to give props to our team physio therapist who healed me through much in three days and because of him, I played today. He also deserves this win.”
“We opened the game very badly on defense,” Assistant Coach Grgurevic says. “We had very bad defense and on offense we played very stupidly. Whoever got the ball took the shot and that’s not the way to play.”
“We played against team that was very tough, but they are good defensively in the sense that they didn’t make very good defnsive rotations. So with one extra pass or penetration you can also make man wide open and we were doing something else. We were shooting immediately and that was good for [the Sakers]. They took the rhythm of the game.”
There was a lot of commotion concerning whether the shot was released in time. In the end, the referees announced that the shot counted, giving K.K. Split the victory and also a trip to the Seri Mutiara Cup Finals as well.
“That’s the game [of basketball].” Coach Grgurevic says of the shot. “Basically we had almost won the game one minute before and twice we gave them the ball directly in their hand. But this is basketball. It changes all the time.
“We won with the last shot, though [the Sakers] thought it was not in time but I’m quite sure it was a pure shot. When the ball left his fingers, you could hear the buzzer.”
Saker’s sharpshooting star Cho Sung Min didn’t quite agree with the call, but also says that the team has higher targets set for themselves.
“I thought it shouldn’t have counted but this is only a preseason game so I don’t really care about it.” Sung Min says. “But before they made the shot, we had to finish the game [on our own].”
“Losing is not a good thing obviously, but our team is still not 100% and we’re still building up our team. [K.K. Split] did well and it was good competition. We’re now in training camp, this is a preseason game so we don’t really care about losing that much here.”
The Sakers will be playing the game for 3rd place against NS Matrix while K.K. Split will be playing for the Seri Mutiara Cup title against Beijing BRBC.
Player of the Game: Henrik Sirko
20 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals
I’m giving Sirko the Player of the Game here because he really shined as the star of the K.K. Split the entire game. He displayed his skills as an unbelievable shooter both stationary and on-the-go and the Sakers just simply had a hard time find someone who was quick enough, strong enough, or big enough to stick with him.
Seri Mutiara Champions Cup 2017: Day 4 MVP
Filip Navej, K.K. Split
Even though Sirko was the Player of the Game, I really have to give the MVP of the day to Filip Navej who has claimed the only game-winning buzzer-beating shot of the tournament… so far.