There’s quick, then there’s “Jayson Castro” quick. So the Iranian team learned in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship.
Castro may be known as “The Blur” but in a signature moment from three years back, he morphed into “The Giant Killer” against a taller, heftier Iran side.
The last time the Philippines defeated Iran in a major international tournament and more importantly, in the “Hamed Haddadi” era, was in September 28, 2015 at Changsha, China. Coached by Tab Baldwin, Gilas Pilipinas overcame a ten-point third quarter deficit to zoom past Iran, 87-73, in a second round group match of the biennial Asian basketball spectacle.
After a shocking two-point loss to Palestine on opening day, the Philippines strung up three-straight wins to gain momentum prior to a pivotal game against Iran. Then the defending FIBA Asia champions, the Iranians have won all their four games by a whopping margin of 48.75 points.
With Castro at the point guard spot, Baldwin also brought in Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, Ranidel De Ocampo, and naturalized center Andray Blatche, among others, for the Changsha joust. Gunning for a fourth FIBA Asia title, the Dirk Bauermann-mentored Iran team was once again bannered by their national team veterans Haddadi, Samad Nikkhah Bahrami, Mehdi Kamrani, Hamed Afagh, and Oshin Sahakian.
With their size and physicality, Iran dictated the early stages of the game. Their six-point halftime lead ballooned to ten at the 8:35 mark of the third period, courtesy of a Nikkhah Bahrami three-pointer.
Down 47-37 and with the Iranians gaining momentum, the Philippines needed a jolt of confidence and a burst of energy to stay in the game. Castro, then hailed as “the best point guard in Asia,” would provide that and more.
Conspiring with Blatche and Romeo, Castro willed the Nationals for a 28-13 windup to close out the third quarter. Castro in particular dissected the Iranian defense for easy layups in the halfcourt and on the break. Blatche dominated his matchup in the low block against the 7-foot-2 Haddadi. Romeo — then sporting highlights on his hair — dazzled in the court with his fancy handles and outside shooting prowess.
Leading 65-60 at the start of the fourth period, the Philippines floored the pedal en route to an upset over the Iranians, who fell behind as much as 16 point in the deciding frame.
Haddadi failed to finish the match due to a technical and his fifth foul in the final 3:52, after contesting a referee’s call following a hard foul on Abueva.
Castro torched the Changsha Social Work College Gymnasium with game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 (61.1 %) field goal shooting. Blatche tallied 18 points and seven rebounds, while Romeo and Abueva contributed 15 and 13 markers, respectively. Nikkhah Bahrami paced Iran with 21 points, laced by five three-pointers. Haddadi struggled all game long against constant double-teaming defense, scoring just 10 points.
The Philippines outscored Iran in the second half, 50-30. The pesky defense of the Filipinos resulted to 12 steals, compared to Iran’s 5. The free throw story also pointed the way of the Philippine quintet, going 20-of-30 (67%) from the stripe. Iran was subpar from the free throw line, making just eight of their fifteen attempts (53%).
The result of the Philippines-Iran encounter influenced the key pairings in the knockout quarterfinal round. While both nations finished with identical 4-1 win-loss cards, the Philippines gained top seeding in Group E, setting up a quarterfinal clash against Jay Youngblood and Lebanon whilst avoiding an early tussle with rival Korea. Following an 82-70 win over the Lebanese side, the Gilas squad would then waylay Japan, 81-70, in the semifinals to barge into the championship round.
After their 75-62 disposal of Korea in the round of eight, Iran was sent packing in the semifinals after a 70-57 defeat to powerhouse China. The Yi Jianlian-led Chinese squad would eventually claim the 2015 FIBA Asia crown after a bruising 78-67 victory over the Philippines.
THE NEXT CHAPTER
On September 13, 2018 or 1,111 days after their Changsha tiff, the Philippines and Iran meet again in a FIBA-level competition. In the continuation of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the Philippine men’s team set to be handled by Coach Yeng Guiao flies to Tehran to challenge a Mehran Shahintab-helmed Iran side in Group F hostilities.
Through three windows of the qualifiers, Group B second-placer Philippines totes a 4-2 slate. The number one team from Group D after the first round of preliminaries, Iran carries a 5-1 card.
Both teams are coming off contrasting campaigns in the 2018 Jakarta-Palembang Asian Games, wherein Iran claimed the silver and the Philippines finished at fifth.