Sunday, September 5, 2010

China advances in improbable fashion at FIBA World Championships

As Chinese players and coaches prepared for the nightcap of Thursday night's games in Ankara, Turkey, they first turned their attention to another, more pivotal contest: Ivory Coast vs. Puerto Rico.

The situation was simple, in a twisted, roundabout way: if Ivory Coast, 0-4, beat Puerto Rico, 1-3, the two teams would be in a three-way tie with China, at which point point differential in games between these three teams would decide who advances to the round of 16 and which two are eliminated.

So No. 1: Ivory Coast has to win.

But for China to advance, it gets a bit trickier. Which brings us to No. 2: Ivory Coast has to win by at least 11 but not more than 5. If they beat Puerto Rico too badly, then Ivory Coast and not China goes through. If, however, they don't win by enough, Puerto Rico is through.

But wait, there's more.

Because FIBA's third-tier tiebreaker is points allowed, China can afford to TIE the Ivory Coast in point-differential IF Ivory Coast allows Puerto Rico to score at least 71 points. I hope you're still following.

So No. 3, if Puerto Rico scores at least 71, Ivory Coast has to win by at least 12 BUT NOT MORE THAN 6.

We're going to confuse you just a little more now. According to this FIBA article, Ivory Coast needed to win by at least 12 -- and not MORE THAN 12:

On Thursday, the last day of pool play, it was a three by Puerto Rico that put China through.

With Puerto Rico being upset and knocked out of the tournament by Ivory Coast, David Huertas buried a shot from the arc at the buzzer to leave the Africans with an 88-79 victory.

Since China, Puerto Rico and Ivory Coast each had one win, goal differential was used a tie-breaker to determine fourth place.

Had Huertas missed, Ivory Coast would have had the best goal differential in the games between Puerto Rico, China and the African team.

I think that's incorrect, though, because no other media outlet -- including Chinese broadcasters -- made note of this "miracle three." You'd think they would, right? I mean, a story like this has an obvious lead, which no savvy news or sports editor would dare bury.

But that's tangential. Watch the fourth quarter of the Ivory Coast and Puerto Rico game and listen to the CCTV-5 commentators as they try to explain the situation to viewers.

With 2:41 left in the game, an and-one puts Ivory Coast up by 9. A little later, after a Puerto Rico turnover, the commentator points out that Puerto Rico may be rushing things a bit.

At the 1:56 mark, commentators wonder out loud what it'll take for Team China to advance on its own merits next time. They are openly questioning, in a roundabout way, whether China deserves to go to the round of 16. (They don't yet know China is about to lose to 47 to Turkey.)

At the 1:25 mark, after Ivory Coast extends its lead to 10, the commentator chuckles, "Don't win by too much."

The commentators are having a good time with this scenario -- watching it reminds me of the thrills of betting against the spread. But not too much is at stake here: before the game, everyone had more or less counted China out, not least of which is because Puerto Rico, at No. 10, is ranked 31 spots above Ivory Coast in the FIBA standings (China is No. 9, by the way).

With less than 20 seconds remaining in the game, Ivory Coast dunks it to go ahead by 12. Shock! Puerto Rico comes back and makes a three-pointer (was it important??? Depends if you believe that FIBA article) with one second left to make it 88-79.

The breakdown between the three teams:

China beat Ivory Coast 83-73
Puerto Rico beat China 84-76
Ivory Coast beat Puerto Rico 88-79

point diff ... points scored ... points allowed
China, +2 … 159 … 157
Ivory Coast, -1 … 161 … 162
Puerto Rico, -1 … 163 … 164

If that three hadn't gone in, Ivory Coast's point differential would have been +2 as well, with a points allowed of 159 (still more than China, which is why I think the the last-second three didn't matter).

Or is points SCORED the tiebreaker after point differential? If that were the case, Puerto Rico's late three would have been the difference.

Who knows. What's for sure is that China is into the elimination rounds and play at 11 pm against Lithuania, the Group D winner. We think we know who's going to win this one, but crazier things have happened in basketball.

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