7 things we learnt from an epic FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final
JEDDAH (Saudi Arabia) - 2020 has been insane but nothing was crazier than the epic FIBA 3x3 World Tour Final in Jeddah, where Nauris Miezis spectacularly won the title for Riga.
Let's recount the things learnt from a dazzling ninth edition of 3x3's showpiece event.
Miezis is no sidekick
Nauris Miezis might need a new nickname. 'Robin' feels almost beneath this assassin who was the best player on the World Tour's biggest stage. Not for the first time, he was Superman when it mattered most to deliver one of the best Tissot Buzzer Beaters of all-time to deliver Riga's first World Tour Final title.
It was such an incredible dagger that it legitimately rivals the greatest 3x3 shot of all time - Bogdan Dragovic's fireball against Novi Sad in the World Tour Final 2017 title game.
The 6ft 3in (1.90m) maestro scored a team-high 9 points in the final and 33 points overall. He finished with a team-best and third overall finish in player value to prove he is essentially flawless as a player.
Miezis is no sidekick. He and Karlis Lasmanis aka 'Batman' are co-stars of the best show in 3x3. They are the meanest duo since Will Smith and Martin Lawrence.
We'll give our man Kyle Montgomery the off-season to come up with another nickname for Nauris Miezis, arguably the best and baddest 3x3 player on the planet.
Riga finally wears the crown
The Latvians have been close for years but were unable to snatch 3x3's crown. They were the World Tour Final 2018 runners-up and the following year, broke through with Masters titles.
Riga circled 2020 as the season they would become 3x3's kings. The talent and chemistry were obvious but there were still doubts whether they could truly get past Novi Sad and Liman.
Riga spectacularly soared past their rivals in a season to remember capped by a finale for the ages. They claimed the Hungary Masters but peaked at the business end. Riga won the Doha Masters against foe Liman on an unbelievable Lasmanis Tissot buzzer beater and then proved it was no fluke by doing it again under even more pressure.
They have the best duo in the game but are far more than a two-man team. Sharpshooter Edgars Krumins is another weapon, while Agnis Cavars is the glue guy and heart of the team.
The competition should be scared - a confident Riga will be even better in 2021.
Heartbreak for Liman….again!
Poor Liman. With their arch-rivals Novi Sad struggling, this appeared the perfect opening for Liman to sit on 3x3's throne. And with the return of superstar Stefan Stojacic, they stormed through Hungary with a mighty 10-3 record including winning the Debrecen and Europe masters.
It could have been one of the most impressive season campaigns if not for Riga. The world No.1 were within one point of winning Doha and the Jeddah Final before ultimately losing both on two of the greatest shots in 3x3 history.
Liman have a long time to brood over the heartbreak. But the mark of a great team is how they respond.
For inspiration, they only have to look at Novi Sad who blitzed through the 2018 season with a 32-0 record after the devastation of losing the World Tour Final 2017.
Time will tell.
Novi Sad's reign is over
Novi Sad's stranglehold of the World Tour Final is over. The four-time champs were looking for a three-peat but the odds were against them after a sluggish campaign in Hungary and they arrived in Jeddah without world No.1 player Dusan Bulut.
It's never wise to write off 3x3's powerhouse and a familiar script was being written - Novi Sad were defying the critics as they stormed into the semis with an impressive victory over NY Harlem.
Big fella Tamas Ivosev was taking up the scoring slack but Novi Sad's lack of firepower without Bulut finally showed in a tough semi-final loss to Riga.
It ended a difficult season for Novi Sad, who just could never get into a groove and were shockingly unable to reach a final from the four events they contested.
Their 3x3 reign is over. But for how long?
Utena is Lithuania's best team
One of the big subplots of the World Tour Final was the emerging rivalry between Lithuanian teams Sakiai and Utena Uniclub.
Sakiai were the surprise packets last year, while Utena have taken the World Tour by storm this season. There was much intrigue with the teams pitted in the 'Group of Death' and Utena had the bragging rights with a convincing 21-14 victory to knock their compatriots out of the tournament, who were missing their star player Marijus Uzupis who sadly tore his ACL while playing basketball.
An Ignas Vaitkus-led Utena reached the semis to ensure they finished with top four finishes in their first three major 3x3 tournaments.
Utena has quickly overtaken pioneers Sakiai, who have work to do to regain their status as Lithuania's best 3x3 team.
Lausanne Katapult and Ub need further improvement
In retrospect, it might have been an overreaction but after Lausanne Katapult beat Liman twice and Ub took down Novi Sad in Hungary, we got really hyped about these two being dark horse in Jeddah.
The Swiss had their share of bad luck with Badara Top missing the last 2 events for medical reasons, but unfortunately couldn't get out of Day 1. After losing a tense game against Novi Sad, Lausanne badly struggled in a must-win clash with Amsterdam to exit the tournament.
After he hit a Tissot buzzer beater on Bulut's chin, we had already branded 25-year-old Miroslav Pasajlic as the next best thing. However he left Jeddah with just 11 points in 3 games.
But at least both teams brought their contribution to the Top 5. Thank you Gilles Martin and Strahinja Stojacic.
We'll need both teams to switch to sixth gear if they want to stay relevant in the competitive world of 3x3.
The Dunk contest was lit
Rafal 'Lipek' Lipinski dominated the World Tour Final's dunk contest for many years. Now it's another Pole who has owned the big stage - Piotr "Grabo" Grabowski.
Grabo outdueled two-time winner Vadim "Miller" Poddubchenko with a spectacular series of dunks. With some of the most powerful finishes we've ever seen.
Just sit back, grab some popcorn and enjoy these nasty throwdowns.