All we learned from FIBA 3x3 Mexico City Masters 2021
MEXICO CITY (Mexico) - With so much at stake, a memorable Mexico City Masters proved a fitting finale to an unforgettable FIBA 3x3 World Tour regular season.
During 3x3's return to a favorite location, Riga made it back-to-back Masters wins after beating rejuvenated San Juan PCI Group in the final. The season's standings fell into place in Mexico with the top 12 teams qualifying for the Jeddah Final next month.
Before we turn attention to the World Tour's biggest prize, let's debrief on the crazy action of the seventh Masters of the season.
Riga are the team to beat in Jeddah
Last year's World Tour winners have timed their run to perfection. Having memorably claimed Gold at the Tokyo Olympics, the Latvians perhaps inevitably came back to earth following those heights and weren't helped by continual injuries.
But the break gave Riga a welcome chance to rest and recuperate, and it's done the trick. The old Riga have emerged since the re-start with eye-catching victories in Abu Dhabi and Mexico City.
Bad news for opponents, Karlis Lasmanis aka 'Batman' has never looked better. He's now won two straight MVPs having scored 78 points in his last 10 games.
And if he doesn't hit you, partner-in-crime Nauris Miezis will. 'Robin' had a case for MVP in his own right having equalled Lasmanis with 38 points in Mexico City and he scored a game-high 8 points in the final.
The duo are clicking perfectly while sharpshooter Edgars Krumins has made a successful comeback from a long stint on the sidelines with an ankle injury. And let's not forget glue guy Agnis Cavars who is back performing whistling celebration post-title. Our sound engineers do not approve.
The chemistry is back and it's beautiful to watch. Make no mistake, Riga - who finished top of the standings after their late surge - are favorite to repeat as World Tour champs.
🏆🇱🇻— FIBA3x3 (@FIBA3x3) November 7, 2021
Riga beat San Juan 21-15 to win the #3x3WTMexicoCity Masters!#3x3WT pic.twitter.com/GI2YsLdt2P
San Juan are the 2021 comeback kings
So, their Lausanne Masters victory was no fluke. San Juan PCI Group shocked the world when they went all the way as the 12th seed - a stunning revival for the Puerto Ricans who were once 3x3 pioneers.
But they fell back to earth in a winless campaign in Abu Dhabi leading some to think they were perhaps one-hit wonders. San Juan proved they are the real deal with a terrific performance in Mexico City, where they were only halted by Riga's runaway train in the final.
Even though they missed veteran Gilberto Clavell, San Juan didn't miss a beat with Angel Matias once again being a bad man in the clutch. The Puerto Ricans welcomed back an old favorite - Luis 'Pela Coco' Hernandez - who was a force of nature around the rim on O and D.
Having booked their ticket to Jeddah, confident San Juan PCI Group believe they can beat anyone. And it would be foolish to doubt them.
✈️🖐️This is San Juan Air Traffic Control!#3x3WTMexicoCity#3x3WT pic.twitter.com/ldCT8OcmiD— FIBA3x3 (@FIBA3x3) November 7, 2021
Liman's drought continues
Incredibly, Liman ended the regular season without a Masters crown. It's not that this iconic Serb team have fallen, it's more to do with 3x3's depth getting deeper - the world's caught up.
Liman were still very consistent making 4 semi-finals from 6 Masters they competed in. But they would have been troubled by their exit in Mexico City after finally being at full-strength with the return of Stefan Stojacic aka 'Mr Robot'
Liman won just one game with losses to Gagarin and Jeddah in the quarters, where they incredibly did not hit a two-point shot.
Liman still have a lot of talent - Mihailo Vasic was at times unstoppable in the paint - but these trusted stars appear to have been overrun by a new breed of talent bursting onto the World Tour.
They have one last chance this season to turn things around.
Gagarin are living up to their potential
After years of unfulfilled promise on the World Tour, much-hyped Gagarin are finally coming together.
With three Olympic silver medalists in their line-up in Mexico City, Gagarin enjoyed the scalps of Liman and similarly hyped Lausanne Sport before falling to eventual champion Riga in a high-quality semi-final.
Alexander Zuev, who has long shone on the international stage but been patchy in Masters, was terrific with 24 points from 4 games highlighted by a mano a mano battle with Riga superstar Karlis Lasmanis that will be talked about for years.
Having not won a Masters game in Lausanne and Prague, Gagarin have come out on a mission after the break with a quarter-final finish in Abu Dhabi before going one better in Mexico City to propel them into the World Tour Final.
Can they lift further in Jeddah? The signs are promising.
Top 12 in the standings finalized
After 7 of the craziest Masters imaginable, the regular season is over and the top 12 is locked into place. There were some surprises with few anticipating the rise of Antwerp (BEL) and San Juan PCI Group.
In a nod to the improved depth on the World Tour in 2021, there are some notable teams that didn't make the cut. Just on the outside is 3x3 powerhouse Novi Sad, who are 4-time World Tour winners.
Piran, Edmonton, NY Harlem and Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy are other famous teams who won't feature in Jeddah.
Team is present in @fiba3x3 WT pro-circuit since 2017 and another season is behind us 😮💨— 3x3 🏀 Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy (@3x3ulaanbaatar) November 8, 2021
We may not achieved all our goals in 2021 🥺
But we shall remain united by true emotions and bound by our
shared passion 🥰
Our gratitude to all our fans for their
unconditional support 🙇🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/lEJUEXKoo5
Brandon Ruffin, remember the name
It was one of the best dunk contests of the season - featuring newcomers Brandon Ruffin aka B-Ruff and Tyler Currie both from California.
There were more 10s flashed around then at a cash register with both contestants bringing the heat to Mexico City with a succession of outrageous dunks. There didn't deserve to be a loser - both high-flyers put on a show in a battle royale.
But it was Ruffin - with his trampoline type bounce - who would not be denied and he emerged as the next great dunker on the circuit.
Don't forget his name. B-Ruff has silly bounce like Isaiah Rider. All you can do is stop, drop, shut'em down, open up shop. RIP DMX.