The countries whose teams did not qualify for the Second Round competed in Thursday’s matches. However, the results of these Classification Games will begin to organize and solidify the FIBA world rankings for each team after this World Cup. It plays a significant role in establishing the new basketball hierarchy. As was the case for Spain in the 1980s, Argentina in the 1990s, and France and Slovenia at the turn of the 2010s, strong tournament finishes can indicate a national team’s staying potential.
Who stood out during Thursday’s FIBA World Cup 2023 Classification Games?
Finland’s Lauri Markkanen
Lauri Markkanen and winless Finland endured a challenging first round, but he and his nation rebounded emphatically with a 100-77 victory over Cape Verde. While Lauri Markkanen was on the court, Finland outscored Cape Verde by the precise margin of victory. The Utah Jazz All-Star scored 34 points on 19 shots in 26 minutes. It is a significant achievement for “The Wolf Pack,” competing in its second FIBA World Cup.
Mexican athletes Pako Cruz and Fabian Jaimes
Mexico, like Finland, did not win in the initial round. Cruz and Jaimes helped break the streak with Cruz’s outside shooting and Jaimes’s all-around excellence, respectively. Cruz, a 33-year-old guard and FIBA veteran scored a game-high 27 points by converting six of his nine three-point attempts. On the other hand, Jaimes filled the box score with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists. The 108-100 victory over New Zealand was Mexico’s first in the FIBA World Cup since 2014 when it finished 14th overall.
The Japanese athletes Makoto Hiejima and Yuta Watanabe
Thursday marked one of the most dramatic comebacks in World Cup history despite Japan’s difficult 1st Round group draw. Hiejima, a former Japanese league MVP, found fire in the third quarter after Venezuela led by as many as 15 points. The 33-year-old point guard scored 17 of his game-high 23 points in the fourth quarter, finishing 8-for-12 overall and 6-for-7 from beyond the arc. Watanabe, who the Phoenix Suns acquired during the NBA offseason, contributed 21 points, eight rebounds, and two blocks on 8-of-14 shooting. The victory is Japan’s first since 2006 in the World Cup.
Lebanon representatives Amir Saoud and Omari Spellman
A brutal first-round tie left Lebanon winless, but the dynamic guard-forward tandem of Saoud and Spellman ensured that the Mediterranean nation would not remain winless. Saoud, a veteran of the Lebanese league for many years, directed an offense that fired 50% from the field and from beyond the arc. He recorded 29 points, five rebounds, and eight assists independently. Spellman, who was selected in the first round of the 2018 NBA Draft, added 25 points, six rebounds, and five assists. In Lebanon’s first FIBA World Cup victory since 2010, the duo combined to convert 11-for-22 from three-point range.
South Sudan’s Carlik Jones
Three days after guiding South Sudan to its first-ever World Cup victory, Jones nearly set a new record with the tournament’s first triple-double. The 25-year-old guard for the Chicago Bulls finished with 17 points, nine rebounds, and 14 assists in an 87-68 victory against the Philippines. With Jones on the court, South Sudan had a 30-point advantage over its opponent. Only 12 years old as a national team, the “Bright Stars” have a positive World Cup classification.