Brace yourselves, Australia: Japan is playing to win
After an incredible comeback win that kept their World Cup hopes alive, Japan will be chasing more history when they take on the Boomers tonight.
Tom Hovasse has seen a lot in his career – he’s played in the NBA, Portugal and Japan, coached men’s and women’s basketball on the international stage, and even won an Olympic medal – but he still seems a little blown away by what’s just happened. As he looks out over a jam-packed media room, he’s searching for a way to sum it all up.
“Man, that was a crazy game.”
That might just be the understatement of the century. Japan’s 98-88 win over Finland was remarkable enough in result alone – after all, the Finns are led by NBA superstar Lauri Markkanen, and they came into this year’s World Cup riding high after reaching the quarter-finals of last year’s Eurobasket. They led by 18 points late in the third term, but spurred on by a rabid home crowd and some inspired play, Japan came storming back to claim their first World Cup win since 2016, knocking Finland out of the tournament in the process.
This is not the first time the Colorado-born Hovasse has made history with Japan. Two years ago at the Tokyo Olympics, he led the women’s national team to their first ever podium finish, beating European powerhouse France twice en route to the gold medal game before falling only to the might of the United States. Now, he’s helping the men’s side climb to new heights, with Sunday’s win also their first ever against a European country.
“We’re trying to create a new standard here for Japan basketball, and this was definitely a big step in the right direction,” Hovasse said postgame.
They have the chance to take an even bigger leap forward tonight in a do-or-die clash with Australia. The winners will advance to the second round; the losers are relegated to the classification games. Australia will enter the clash with confidence, and rightly so – their loss to Germany was disappointing, but they still hold aspirations of competing for a gold medal.
“[The loss] is obviously frustrating and disappointing, but it’s over with now and we’ll go watch the film on this game, see what we can get better at, and prepare for this next one,” Joe Ingles said postgame.
Hovasse knows that his side will be the underdogs, admitting that the Boomers are “one of the best teams in the world”. “We can’t allow them to push us around — they’re bigger, they’re stronger, we have to battle on the rebounds, we have to keep it close on the rebounds, and we have to shoot probably better the day after tomorrow than we did tonight,” he said.
That doesn’t mean that his team will lay down and surrender, though. “If we can settle in and play our game, and kind of create the pace that we want, I like our chances. We’re here to win, we’re not here to participate.”
“They’re going to be hungry, they’re going to come with all they have, we’ve gotta take the punch and counter and hopefully we can show them what we’ve got.”
It’s hard to argue with Hovasse that, when Japan are able to play their game, they are a threat to any opponent. Shooting a high volume of threes in every game they play, they can pile on the points in a hurry. They couldn’t get into that groove in their opening game against Germany, shooting just 17% from behind the arc, and they trailed from start to finish as a result.
When those shots are falling, it’s a whole different story.
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