MANILA, Philippines -- Panagiotis Giannakis sat on the table of the media room explaining in so many words and in polite terms the debacle that was the 96-78 China loss to Chinese Taipei.
At times, he sounded like he was making a public plea for another chance.
One wonders how the powers that be in Beijing will take this. It isn’t the first time, they’ve lost a basketball game but it has been decades since they lost to Chinese Taipei. To not be politically correct, the mainland regards the island state as a renegade province.
Speaking with Chinese reporters covering the FIBA Asia Championships, they said that the match up was simply another game. “No big deal,” one said with a smile on his face. Yeah, right. And Yi Jianlian is just another basketball player.
When China played Korea early in the tournament, the supposedly unbiased Chinese media were seen and heard to be hurling racial epithets to the Koreans from the media section of the arena! Just another game, huh.
Two days before the match up with Chinese Taipei, the Chinese media asked Giannakis what he thought of the Taipei’s strong showing this tournament. “We have not lost to them,” emphasized a woman reporter. It was half-question and a half plea for assurance. Why not? This Chinese team looked shaky.
I don’t think the Chinese fully grasped the Greek’s desire to play defense first. They didn’t look silky smooth but rather lost and ineffective. And frustrated.
This Chinese team is a combination of talent, height, power, and speed. They’ve got talented newcomers and veteran leadership. But they underperformed. I know that Coach Giannakis didn’t have the team he wanted. Some were reportedly lined up against his wishes. But at the end of the day, injuries and politics got in the way.
Despite all of that this loss will be difficult to swallow. China lost to the two teams they should not lose to – Korea and Chinese Taipei. And they nearly a fourth against Japan (another must win for them).
Across Giannakis on the dais was Taipei coach Hsu Chin Che. Throughout the tournament, the coach tried his best to converse in English and he, more often than not, managed. Today, he tried his best to be remain impassive but it was impossible. He smiled and grinned. Why not? A top three finish is what they are out for but this win will long be remembered not only in his country (or renegade province depending on which side of the spectrum you are) but also in the entire continent of Asia.
When Lin Chih Chieh hit that long three-pointer that was the icing on the cake for his team, he let out a scream. That image will be one of this tournament’s most indelible images.
For Coach Hsu, he knows how Coach Giannakis feels to be not only on the winning side but also to be a giant killer. His team has taken down the Philippines and now China. Will Iran be next?
Giannakis cut a name for himself as a miracle maker. A giant killer if you will. He was a superb point guard in his time and an even better coach leading Greece to the gold medal in EuroBasket in 2005 and a silver medal finish in Saitama, Japan the following year. That was an incredible time for Greece. In 2004, their national football team also won Euro 2004. And Panagiotis was once more a hero. His Greek team defeated a LeBron James and Tim Duncan-led US team, 101-95, in the semifinals.
But now, his China team is in shambles. Heads will roll but whose heads?
I’ve noted through these past few years how China’s style of play has changed. They have alternated in playing American pro and European-style basketball. In the meantime, the style espoused by Korea, one China played much like, is gone. No more deadeye shooters. No more crafty backdoor cuts. No more pick and rolls. In place is the power game. Slash and dunk. Post-up and kick out. Sure the game has changed. It is now played above the rim. Players are more skilled and talented.
Korea has incorporated new ideas into their old system. But for them, it is important to maintain their identity and style of play. Incredibly, Chinese Taipei plays a lot like Korea.
Maybe this loss had to happen for China to figure out where they are going or what they want to do. They cannot keep changing coaches. They have to be a little patient with the system they want to put in place.
If their solution is to host the games where they have homecourt advantage (that somehow comes with biased calls) then they are still stuck in the 20th century.
Maybe Giannakis’ defensive style is not a fit but they have to change their mindset and thinking.
That is the one upside they can take way from this loss.