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Al-Riyadi secured their spot in the basketball WASL league final by defeating La Sagesse with a convincing score of 86-65 on Wednesday in Zouk Mikael. Consequently, Al-Riyadi joins the Iranian club, Gorgan, in the final.

The miracle didn’t happen for the Greens! Indeed, Al-Riyadi easily defeated La Sagesse with a resounding score of 86-65 in the match that pitted the two teams against each other on Wednesday in the semi-final of the West Asian Basketball Super League (WASL).

Yet everything had started well for La Sagesse. Opting for a slightly revised starting lineup, Jad el-Hajj fielded Marc Khoueiry, Ahmad Ibrahim, Deng Acuoth, Karim Ezzedine, and Jonathan Gibson. The latter kicked off proceedings with a successful three-pointer, followed by two more baskets. Deng allowed La Sagesse to (temporarily) take the lead (10-0 in the 3rd).

The Tree that Hides the Forest

But it was the tree hiding the forest. Al-Riyadi, who hadn’t traveled to Zouk Mikael for sightseeing, immediately reacted. With their classic lineup consisting of Karim Zeinoun, Elmedin Kikanovic, Wael Arakji, Hayk Gyokchyan, and Manny Harris, coach Ahmad Farran called his troops for a timeout for new instructions. Farran’s directives immediately bore fruit as the Yellow team began an inexorable comeback. Hayk Gyokchyan allowed his club to take the lead for the first time (19-15 for Al-Riyadi in the 10th). In the second quarter, the Yellow team maintained pressure on their opponents, widening the gap in the score more and more (31-21 in the 15th).

Atavism and Vegas

At the end of the second quarter, with 49 seconds left to play, the ultras of both teams reminded everyone of their presence by triggering a boxing spectacle in the stands worthy of the great fights in Las Vegas. It must be recognized that after three derbies without “disturbances,” serious concern was beginning to arise. Lebanese atavism always resurfaces in national sports with a consistency that commands respect. After a twenty-minute interruption, the match resumed as if nothing had happened. Al-Riyadi’s players were still irresistible, and the inevitable fate of the Greens remained just as inevitable. On Wednesday, La Sagesse’s defense leaked from all sides, appearing tired and fragile, not to mention very lax at times. They failed to capitalize on the lead built at the beginning of the match behind an exceptional individual sequence from Jonathan Gibson.

Outplayed in competitiveness and rebounding, sectors where they traditionally reign, clumsy behind the arc (7/24), the Greens were weighed down by one of Ahmad Ibrahim’s worst matches of the season, held to 3 points, as well as guilty collective accuracy at free throws (18/27). On the other hand, three-point shooting allowed the Yellow team to stay in the game for a long time. Wael Arakji, the game’s MVP, kept his team afloat in difficult moments, while Elmedin Kikanovic (18 points) tortured the opposing defense, and Hayk Gyokchyan, extremely valuable (10 points in 11 minutes), also proved decisive in the final minutes.

On Wednesday, La Sagesse will try to stay in the Final 8 in a highly dangerous match in Ghazir against Al-Shorta, an Iraqi club coached by a certain Ghassan Sarkis.

Next Thursday, the Yellow team will aim to retain their title against Gorgan (Iran) on the field of the Nouhad Naoufal Stadium in Zouk Mikael. The final will be played in the best of three matches, and Al-Riyadi is already eyeing another title to add to their already impressive trophy gallery.