TOKYO – The Czech Republic launched their Olympic hoop dreams in Tokyo on Sunday with an 84-78 win against Iran, slowing down a late rally by the Iranians who cut the lead to four points with less than a minute to go.
Contributing 52 points from the bench, the Czechs led most of the game and at one point in the fourth quarter held a 22-point lead.
The Iranians fought back, guard Behnam Yakhchalidehkordi hitting three greats with 1:10 left.
But the Czechs held out for the win, with Blake Schilb scoring key baskets late to push the margin back to six.
“A win is a win,” said Czech Republic coach Ronen Ginzburg.
Both teams exchanged baskets in a tight first quarter, but as the game progressed, Iran’s offense stalled, relying heavily on Yakhchalidehkordi’s scoring. The guard scored a 23-point game high.
Czech offensive ball movement helped them extend their lead and they started to pull away in the second, punctuated by a dunk from Tomas Satoransky. But the Chicago Bulls point guard struggled and finished the game with 6 points.
For most of the third quarter, the Czech bench boosted its double digits, led by Schilb, who had 14 points for the game and reserve center Patrik Auda, whose 16 points from the bench were a game-high for the team.
Auda praised the Iranians for their energetic fight.
“We started the game very well. In the second half we had a good advantage but we lost it, “he said. “Maybe it was because of Iran’s zone defense, it caught us off guard.”
Iran was their worst enemy, they spun the ball too many times, allowing the Czechs to score 31 points. They also allowed 16 defensive rebounds, giving the Czechs multiple second-chance opportunities.
But they were brought to life in the final quarter filled by Yakhchalidehkordi, who hit a three, where he was fouled, and converted a four-point play, a layup and three more to cut the lead to four with less than 90 seconds to go.
Without fans, the Iranian bench could be heard urging their team to stop in the final minutes of the game.
But Schilb was able to stabilize his team with his crucial baskets to give the Czech his first Olympic victory.
“Blake brought his experience,” Ginzburg said. “We had so many open shots, he has the experience to make these shots.”
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