ISTANBUL (FIBA 3x3 World Tour) – In an extremely competitive tournament, Bucharest UPB (ROM) squeezed through the group stage to make it all the way to the final, only to fall to unbeaten Vilnius (LTU).
The first Semi-Final, saw Bucharest UPB open up an early lead against surprise package Amman (JOR) that would reach five, before the Jordanian duo of Ali Jamal and Mohammad Hussein led a quick-fire comeback bringing scores back to 10-11 with a couple of minutes to play.
But Bucharest's Angel Santana showed why he is considered one of the very best by fans of 3x3 as well as his fellow players. With Bucharest desperately hanging on to a one point lead, he drove into the lane coming up against a wall of Jordanians. He slowed almost to a standstill and delivered a sumptuous tear-drop over his opponents to reverse the momentum.
As the final buzzer sounded, the celebrations began. Bucharest UPB were going to Miami.
In the other Semi – between Vilnius and Kharkov – the bigger Lithuanians had opened up a five point gap midway through the game, profiting from their superior size and a succession of misfires.
But a huge play by Anton Mikhaylov with just over three minutes to go began a scoring run that would fall just short of bringing both sides level.
It was followed by shot from beyond the arc for two by Tymur Arabadzhy – who was finding his range after a poor start – bringing scores to 7-9, while seconds later he brought the two teams to within a point.
However, the excellent Darius Ciuta managed to stop the rot, before Arabadzhy again brought scores to within a single point from the line.
Vilnius would hold on in spite of a succession of desperation fouls and missed free throws, to book their place in the Final and their tickets to Miami.
Prior to the very first game of the tournament, between Bucharest UPB and Vilnius some had already whispered of a dress rehearsal of the Final.
They would be proved right, as the two locked horns in the title game. On Saturday morning, the scores had finished 18-16 in favour of Vilnius.
A day-and-a-half later and Vilnius stormed into the lead with Mindaugas Budzinauskas and Darius Ciuta overpowering the Romanians early on.
The usually inspirational Santana looked unusually lackluster as Bucharest trailed 4-9 halfway through the encounter.
Withstanding every attempt at a comeback, Vilnius effectively tied the game up with two minutes to go thanks to a shot from beyond the arc by Ciuta to bring the scores to 16-12.
The final buzzer brought scenes of celebration as the USD 12,000 cheque was handed over.
The Romanians can console themselves by the fact that, in three weeks only, they will have a chance at revenge; this time in Miami.
Also catching attention, were the Samsung Shoot-Out contest, won by Kharkov’s Arabadzhy with an impressive seven of ten in very windy conditions, as well as the Dunk Contest Final, which saw Rafał "Lipek" Lipiński produce a breath-taking ryder over a Harley Davidson, complete with a sitting biker.
Next stop Madrid on 7-8 September, when two further 3x3 World Tour Final spots will be decided.