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Japan upsets Finland in FIBA World Cup, wins first ever game against European country

It’s wasn’t the greatest performance from Yuta Watanabe, but it was the most emotional.

The Japanese men’s national basketball team isn’t one that has a long history of success. Their best finish in the Olympics was 9th. In 1936. They are 5-22 all time in FIBA World Cup play. They haven’t medaled in the FIBA Asia Cup since 1997.

Despite being one of the three host countries for the 2023 FIBA World Cup — along with the Philippines and Indonesia — there isn’t much hype around the team FIBA has ranked as the 36th best team in the world. They are in Group E with Australia, Germany (who they lost to on Friday), and Finland. Note that two of those countries are located in Europe. Add to your notes that Japan has never defeated a team from Europe in FIBA World Cup play.

Until now.

Led by Joshua Hawkinson’s 28 points and 19 rebounds, Japan overcame an 18-point deficit late in the third to defeat Finland, 98-88 in Okinawa, Japan. Yuki Kawamura added 25 points and 9 assists.

With the score 73-63 after three quarters, Japan posted a 35-15 fourth quarter performance that led to their first win in FIBA play this season, as well as an emotional aftermath in front of their home crowd.

The wins marks the first time that Japan had won a game in the FIBA World Cup since they defeated Panama on August 21, 2006. Per DraftKings, the Japanese team were +10.5 underdogs entering the game with +380 odds to win.

The Finnish were outscored 61-21 off the bench and, with the game at 79-78 with 4:35 left, allowed Japan to close out the game on a 19-10 run. The loss eliminates Finland from advancing in the tournament.

Lauri Markkanen, who was born in Vantaa, Finland, led Finland with 27 points on 10-of-21 shooting and 12 rebounds.

Markkanen impressed throughout and was quite possibly the best player on the court...had it not been for Joshua Hawkinson. You know, Joshua Haakon Hawkinson, right? No? Unless you’re Damon Allred, I doubt you do.

Hawkinson is a former Washington State University Cougar who, at 6’10” is currently playing in the Japanese B1 League for the Shinshu Brave Warriors. Last season he led the team in scoring and rebounding with 18 points and 9.1 rebounds. Being of Japanese-American decent he officially became a Japanese citizen earlier this year.

As for the performance of Phoenix Suns’ wing Yuta Watanabe, it wasn’t a stat-stuffing night. He finished with 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting. He was 0-of3 from three-point range. In his 29:33 played, Watanabe 0 rebounds and 2 assists.

He carried with him a noticeable limp, which can be attributed to the final moments of Japan’s loss to Germany. On a fastbreak alley oop dunk, Yuta grabbed at his left hamstring after scoring the two points and hobbled. While no reports came out that he was injured, and Japanese head coach Thomas Wayne Hovasse started him, it did appear that he was hampered.

We will wait and monitor whether or not Yuta Watanabe will be ready to play against the Australian team on Tuesday.

Australia, who is ranked 3rd in the world, features numerous current and former NBA platers on its roster. Patty Mills, Dyson Daniels, Matisse Thybulle, Josh Giddey, Joe Ingles, Dante Exum, and Josh Green will be playing for the FIBA lives against Japan. Why? Because Germany, led by Dennis Schroder’s 30-point performance on Sunday, upset Australia, 85-82.

Tune in on Tuesday morning at 4:10am Arizona time to see Japan, who is currently +18.5 underdogs and a +1500 to win, take on Australia.

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