Red-hot Riga continue winning streak to claim FIBA 3x3 NEOM Super Quest 2022
NEOM (SAUDI ARABIA ) - Powerhouse Riga (LAT) remain unbeaten since the return of superstar Karlis Lasmanis after beating rival Antwerp (BEL) to claim the FIBA 3x3 NEOM Super Quest 2022 on November 4-5.
Here's what happened.
The winners: Riga (LAT)
They were: No.3 most points scored, best shooting value and fewest points allowed.
Since Lasmanis returned to the line-up, bringing together four Olympic gold medalists, Riga are literally unbeatable. They've won 20 - yes, 20 - straight games, including the Montreal and Cebu Masters.
Their famed chemistry somehow has become even better resulting in beautiful 3x3, where they are running circles under opponents. But it wasn't easy in NEOM with Riga squeezing by Manila Chooks (PHI) in their opener 19-18 before finding their irresistible best against Warsaw Lotto (POL) in a 22-9 thrashing.
The knockout stages bring out the best in Riga and they needed to fire in the quarters against in-form Vienna (AUT), who won the Paris Masters.
It was no problem for them with the Latvians playing lock down D to restrict scoring machine Stefan Stojacic to just three points, while Lasmanis dominated with a game-high 9 points where he couldn't be stopped at the rim.
In the semis against a desperate Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy, looking for a breakthrough title in 2022, Riga proved they are a team full of David Blaines because they once again somehow escaped with victory.
Down 20-17, they headed for the exit but you can never count them out. So it proved with Nauris Miezis putting on his cape for the strip and two-piece to level up then for fellow superhero Lasmanis to calmly sink a free-throw to claim another famous Riga comeback win.
In a re-match of the final in Cebu, Riga's momentum couldn't be stopped as they again proved too tough in the clutch to take down Antwerp and continue their winning ways.
Lasmanis and Miezis were unstoppable as a duo with a combined 71 points with the latter - who popularly goes by the nickname of 'Robin' - winning MVP as Riga booked a ticket to the Hong Kong Masters.
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The runners-up: Antwerp (BEL)
For the third straight tournament, Antwerp finished second which would sting a team with ambitions to conquer 3x3. They've only fallen to rivals Riga and Ub at the death in those events, so they are absolutely at their level but no doubt the defeats will hurt.
Apart from a thrilling OT win in pool play against dangerous NY Harlem (USA), Antwerp were relatively untroubled with comfortable knockout victories against Jeddah (KSA) and Warsaw Lotto (POL).
Walking bucket Thibaut Vervoort aka 'Must See TV' was on full volume and he teamed up brilliantly with prized recruit Dennis Donkor as Antwerp know they are on pace with 3x3's absolute best even though they've fallen short in finals recently.
Dangerous Duo: With Nick Celis aka 'Clark Kent' not in NEOM, Donkor had to step up as a scorer and he did exactly that with 26 points as he showed he could hit buckets from inside and outside the arc.
Donkor provided a one-two punch with Vervoort with this duo combining for 61 points to almost get Antwerp over the line. A two-way force, Donkor is quickly becoming a rising star in 3x3 adding to the scary depth of talent for Antwerp.
The Final: Riga 21-Antwerp 17
Only Black Panther: Wakanda Forever might have been more hyped than this blockbuster final between two of the best in the business.
With more stars than on a clear night, sniper Edgars Krumins didn't want to be forgotten and he nailed an early two-piece to give Riga the early lead. An explosive Donkor confidently attacked the rim, but Krumins had the range as Riga skipped out to a 7-2 lead.
Of course, Antwerp were going to hit back as they eyed revenge for Cebu with 5 quick points marked by pretty passes leading to open layups. It went back and forth and you just knew this was headed for another classic between these rivals.
Inside the last minute, Krumins played bully ball in the paint to give Riga a 17-14 lead before Vervoort banked an incredible one-legged two-piece to get Antwerp within one.
In winning time, there's just one bad dude you want the Wilson to go to. With time ticking down, and Riga leading by two, Miezis calmly dribbled the ball well beyond the arc only then to step back and hit the dagger in another clutch shot from this assassin.
Riga had another title and Miezis walked off with another MVP.
The reward: Two tickets to Hong Kong Masters
Riga and Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy booked tickets to the Hong Kong Masters on November 26-27 in the final Masters before the Abu Dhabi Final.
With Antwerp having already qualified, third placed Ulaanbaatar joined Ub Huishan NE (SRB) , Liman Huishan NE (SRB), Warsaw Lotto (POL), Beijing (CHN) and Kaohsiung (TPE) in the 16-team draw.
1. Riga (LAT)
2. Antwerp (BEL)
3. Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy (MGL)
4. Warsaw Lotto (POL)
5. Paris (FRA)
1. Steve Sir (Ulaanbaatar, MGL) 38 pts
2. Karlis Lasmanis (Riga, LAT) 37 pts
3. Nauris Miezis (Riga, LAT) 34 pts
4. Thibaut Vervoort (Antwerp, BEL) 33 pts
5. Przemyslaw Zamojski (Warsaw, POL) 29 pts
- Three of the top four seeds made the semis with red-hot Vienna (AUT) missing out after they were knocked out by Riga in the quarters.
- Steve Sir did all he could to get a first title this season for Ulaanbaatar MMC Energy (MGL) after finishing top in player value (45.4) and overall points, including a monster 12-point haul against NY Harlem in the quarters.
- Stefan Stojacic's incredible comeback continued with an insane performance against Paris (FRA) in pool play when he tallied a triple-five - 10 points, 7 rebounds and 5 highlights but Vienna fell short.