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Al-Riyadi, buoyed by 20 points from the unstoppable and impregnable Maker, slapped Iranian club Gorgan (95-60), quickly overtaken by events, to take a one-to-none lead in their West Asia Basket-ball League (Wasl) final on Thursday.

Al-Riyadi beat Gorgan in Act I of the Wasl final. In diesel mode, al-Riyadi had a complicated first quarter. Indecisive at the 10-minute mark (23-22), Act I quickly settled down in the second quarter, when the Yellow machine got underway. More like a steamroller. The gap of just 1 point at the 10th minute (23-22) widened in the second quarter (45-32, 20th). The hard part was over. The money-time was only confirmation: al-Riyadi won by a wide margin (95-60) to take a 1-0 lead in this top-of-the-table duel. As a result, the Yellows immediately took home advantage in a best-of-three series.

The team, led by Thon Maker, scorer of 20 points, and Waël Arakji (14), will travel to Teheran next Wednesday in a strong position. “This was just the first game, and we’ll have to do the same there,” summed up the American giant.

Yellow Tide

On the pitch of the Nouhad Nawfal stadium in Zouk Mikael, in front of 6,000 delirious spectators, Ahmad Farran’s men quickly took control thanks to an iron defense in which Vahedi and Monji were the main victims. From a 7-0 lead for al-Riyadi after 3 minutes, the score then swung back and forth. Gorgan even took an 18-13 lead following the conversion of a four-point basket by Sina Vahedi with 3:24 remaining in the first quarter, a situation which seemed to make things gloomier for the Yellows as Karim Zeinoun picked up his second foul of the game. But it was only a passing cloud. Simmons and Maker quickly joined forces to initiate a comeback in which Arakji then joined in to slowly close the gap. Mostafa Hashemi’s team then suffered a 2nd wave of yellow, punctuated by an Ali Mansour basket that gave the Lebanese a 1 point lead at the buzzer (23-22) amid a raucous roar.

In the second quarter, Gorgan tried to loosen the grip on al-Riyadi, but his efforts were in vain. The momentum had now swung irreversibly in al-Riyadi’s favour. With the Iranian champions becoming ineffective in attack, al-Riyadi quietly took advantage of the situation to cut through the halfway line with a 13-point viatical (45-32).

A Healthy Move for Riyadi

After the break, the Iranians tried to stay afloat, but nothing could be done. Worse still, the Lebanese, on a cloud, poured a bucket of cold water over their heads, materialized by a 71-50 and two three-point shots from Maker.

Already stunned, Mostafa Hashemi’s team took a further blow when al-Riyadi conceded two more hat-tricks. Buoyed by the support of a wildly enthusiastic crowd, the Lebanese redoubled their efforts, multiplying decisive actions and successful shots. Al-Riyadi consolidated their stranglehold on the match and managed the final stages with great skill.

“I’m glad we won the match and protected our pitch. We did a good job. The lads were up to the task defensively and offensively. Statistics can tell you everything about our performance. We started slowly but managed to finish the first and second quarters in our favor. Even though we committed a lot of turnovers and lost a lot of rebounds, in the end we executed our game plan,” commented Ahmad Farran after the game.

For his part, Wael Arakji, voted best player of the match, added, “I think we did a good job as a team. We made sure we stopped them offensively. I think they only scored 60 points. We made sure we stopped their key players and, above all, the ball was moving beautifully for us. It was a collective effort both offensively and defensively. Very happy with the win, but the work isn’t over. We still have to win in Tehran to take the championship.”

In the end, it was with a convincing victory (95-60) that al-Riyadi concluded the first act of the final, ensuring a thunderous start to this decisive series. The fans were ecstatic, the players were savoring this well-deserved success, and already all eyes were on the next clash, this time in Teheran. The big question is whether the Iranians will have the physical and moral resources to bounce back from their monumental defeat by the Lebanese champions.

We’ll find out next Wednesday.

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