Palestine leaned on the endgame heroics of Jamal Abu Shamala and Sani Sakakini to manufacture a stirring upset and open their account in the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, beating heavily-favored Philippines, 75-73.
The Filipinos started the game strong, leading by as many as 16 points in the first quarter, but their guard dropped in the second period and that allowed Palestine to creep back into the match. The Palestinians kept close throughout, finally taking the lead in the fourth quarter. Coach Tab Baldwin’s players retook the lead with some great plays from Andray Blatche and Terrence Romeo, but Palestine had one more big run that deflated the much ballyhooed Filipinos.
Jamal Abu Shamala shone the brightest for Palestine with a game-high 26 points, including 6 triples, while brothers Sani Sakakini and Salim Sakakini added 22 and 10 points respectively. Former NBA player Andray Blatche paced the losing side with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but he shot just 7-of-18 from the field.
Turning Point: The Philippine still held a sizeable lead in the fourth period, 71-62, with less than five minutes to play, but Palestine then went on a 10-0 run to snatch the lead in the final 2 minutes. The Filipinos held the advantage for the last time at 73-72 with under a minute to go, but Sani Sakakini was up to the challenge and scored the marginal points to complete the upset.
Stats Don’t Lie: Palestine’s big three: Sani Sakakini, Jamal Abu Shamala, and Imad Qahwash all played without relief in this encounter. Not surprisingly, they all put up big numbers. Abu Shamala collared 15 rebounds, while Sakakini hauled down 14 boards, had 2 steals, and blocked 1 shot. Qahwash, who was supposed to play in the PBA this past season, added 17 points.
Game Hero: Jamal Abu Shamala was really the one who killed the Philippines here. Despite playing from start to finish, the 196cm/6ft 5in US-born swingman didn’t look gassed in the payoff period. He continued to be aggressive in attacking the Philippine defense and showed no hesitation in hoisting (and hitting) those jumpers, including back-to-back three-pointers late in the game that really changed the match’s complexion.
The Bottom Line: Most observers ranked the Philippines way ahead of Palestine, or any other team for that matter, in this group, but this result proves that anything can happen. With Palestine tripping the Filipinos here, it sure looks like the other teams in Group B, and perhaps the ones in Group A, too, are feeling more confident about their chances. Palestine, meanwhile, debuted in the tournament with aplomb, and they are sure to be taken much more seriously moving forward.