Everything we learned from FIBA 3x3 Hong Kong Masters 2022
HONG KONG - The first-ever FIBA 3x3 Hong Kong Masters lived up to the hype in a fitting end to the World Tour's regular season.
Before we turn attention to the FIBA 3x3 Abu Dhabi Final, let's recap a memorable two days of action in this world famous Asian destination.
Sakiai Gulbele get reward for their strong form
These dudes deserved the title because Sakiai have been red hot in the second half of the season and entered Hong Kong having won the Capivari De Baixo Challenger 2022.
The lethal Lithuanians were in Pool B, which was probably the 'Group of Death', and they emerged with a 1-1 record after easily beating No.2 seed Liman before falling to Beijing in a thriller.
It meant Sakiai had the tough task of playing red-hot Riga on a 27-game winning streak since the return of superstar Karlis Lamanis. But they played inspired 3x3 to do the impossible and shut down superheroes Lasmanis and Nauris Miezis, who combined for just 1 of 10 from 2.
They stunned Riga but weren't done upsetting higher seeds with a tight semi-final victory over No.3 seed Antwerp. This time Sakiai completely blanketed Thibaut Vervoort as 'Must See TV' had the plug pulled out and went scoreless!
Their momentum couldn't be stopped as Sakiai took down Vienna in the final to win their first Masters in three years. They had been hot and cold in the years since until this purple patch in recent months has propelled Sakiai back up the ladder.
MVP Aurelijus Pukelis and Marijus Uzupis were unstoppable with 75 points combined to cement their standing as one of 3x3's best duos.
Sakiai won't be dark horses in Abu Dhabi. They deserve to be among the favorites.
Top seeds struggle
Put your hands up if you had top four seeds Ub, Liman, Antwerp and Riga not making the final? Don't lie, hands down!
They had combined for 9 of the 10 Masters titles of 2022 but the big four had their hands full in Hong Kong. Perhaps No.1 seed Ub's struggles weren't totally surprising without Nemanja Barac, who has been an important glue guy, but the Serbs have now fallen short in four straight Masters.
The biggest shock was Liman's day one exit in a winless campaign. It was the first time they had not made it to the knockout stages since joining the World Tour in 2016.
Riga were always destined to lose eventually, so probably should be cut some slack after an unbelievable run, while Antwerp will be disappointed having been the only one of the top four to make the semis before bowing out to Sakiai.
It just confirms that everything is possible in 3x3 as the superpowers enter the Abu Dhabi Final with some thinking to do.
Amsterdam HiPRO's semi-final curse continues
Amsterdam might need to call in an exorcist because they have a semi-final curse. The Dutch Masters fell at this hurdle for the fifth time in six Masters this season to continue their title drought in 2022.
With the favorites falling early, Amsterdam eyed a title but once again fell short in the semis - this time to Vienna. It's certainly no disgrace losing to Vienna, who won in Paris and were on a roll early in Hong Kong after their star Stefan Stojacic scored an insane 17 points against Kaohsiung.
But this was still a golden opportunity for Amsterdam led by a hot shooting Dimeo van der Horst. Instead, Amsterdam's hex continued and the monkey on their back grows bigger heading into the showpiece finale.
Beijing are a team to watch in 2023
Beijing have made a splash in their two Masters appearances with quarter-final finishes, including in Hong Kong where they stole the show on Day One.
Former Novi Sad great Marko Savic had the bragging rights over his old rival Liman by scoring the last three points to lead Beijing to a thrilling victory. They then defeated eventual champs Sakiai Gulbele after an incredible Maurice Lacroix buzzer-beater from Hanyu Guo, who hit the two-piece from Victoria Harbour.
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The Chinese couldn't keep the momentum going in the quarters as they fell to Amsterdam but there was a lot to like with Yuanbo Zhu and Hanyu Guo packing a mighty one-two punch, while Savic's experience proved invaluable.
We can't wait to see this emerging team try to make the leap in 2023.
Hong Kong proved an amazing 3x3 destination
It's always incredible to add a new locale to the World Tour and glitzy Hong Kong is a fitting addition.
One of the most famous destinations in the world, marked by a spectacular skyline, Hong Kong's first World Tour event was played at the picturesque Victoria Park as local fans got a taste of pro 3x3.
With passionate fans among beautiful surroundings, the first ever Hong Kong Masters was a major hit and we can't wait to return.