The 2013 FIBA Asia tournament is in full swing, as group play is set to conclude and the classification stage is nearly upon us. With numerous upsets having already transpired, however, the tournament isn't shaping up in the manner expected.
With the pressure mounting, the top contenders in Manila came out firing and dominated the final day of group play to remind us of how things are supposed to be.
The standings may paint a picture of surprising squads rising, but in the classification stage, it's clear who we should be putting our money on. Reputation may be a dangerous thing to deal with, but certain teams are beginning to play their cards right.
In that same breath, the underdogs are beginning to falter at the wrong time.
With the tournament reaching it's most critical point yet, we were offered a preview of how games would transpire. From blowouts of lesser opponents to close but convincing victories, we saw it all from our top title contenders.
Here's how they did it.
Group Standings via FIBA.com.
Iran 85, Kazakhstan 53
For the second consecutive FIBA Asia Tournament, Iran is looking like the class of the event. They're dominating lesser opponents, defeating supposed equals in convincing fashion and displaying extraordinary balance.
Perhaps most importantly, five-year NBA veteran Hamed Haddadi is looking like Dwight Howard.
The 7'2" center is currently averaging 17.2 points and 8.7 rebounds in 19.8 minutes of action. Against Kazakhstan, he refused to slow down for anyone.
Haddadi posted game-highs of 16 points and nine rebounds, converting 6-of-11 from the field and blocking one shot.
Shooting guard Hamed Afagh added 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, while point guard Mahdi Kamrany led the attack with 11 points, seven assists and two steals. Shooting 59.6 percent from the field as a team, it was easy pickings for Iran.
Iran utilized their superior size, pounding it down low and attacking the rim to get Kazakhstan's key players in foul trouble. In turn, they attempted 20 free throws to Kazakhstan's 10 and forced three separate players to commit five fouls.
When a team can only foul, it shows that they have no answer defensively.
The defensive key for Iran was their ability to keep Kazakhstan out of the paint, thus forcing them into a heavy reliance upon their jump shooters. For the game, they made seven three-point field goals, but did it on 21 attempts.
Iran dominated the interior on both ends, leaving Kazakhstan without a paddle.
China 88, Bahrain 66
China hasn't played very well during the 2013 FIBA Asia tournament, which is rather surprising. Say what you will about his NBA career, but Yi Jianlian is a genuine star under the international spotlight and that's often been enough to breed dominant play.
Having missed four games, Jianlian reminded us of his brilliance with 12 points in 13 minutes as China cruised to an 88-66 victory over Bahrain.
China was as balanced as you could possibly hope for, shooting 50.8 percent from the field and converting nine attempts at 40.9 percent from three-point range. They were also 13-of-17 from the free throw line, forcing Ahmed Akber into foul trouble during his breakout performance.
If that's not enough, six separate Chinese players were in double-figures.
The key to China's victory truly was balance, as they topped Bahrain in two critical categories: rebounding and three-point shooting. With Zhelin Wang putting up 11 points and nine rebounds, and Bo Zhang dishing out four assists, China had it all.
In the end, they proved that they remain a FIBA Asia power.
As long as Jianlian can remain healthy and continue contributing at a high level, the Chinese stand a chance at the title. If he struggles, however, China will fall short of the lofty expectations that they've earned from years of dominance.
As is life for a title contender.
Philippines 67, Hong Kong 55
Siu Wing Chan scored 16 points and Duncan Reid put up 12 points and 19 rebounds for Hong Kong. Even still, they were held to 28.0 percent shooting from the field as a team.
That type of defensive brilliance is the sign of a champion.
On top of their smothering D, Philippines had four players in double-figures, including Marcus Douthit with 13 points, eight rebounds and two blocks. Paired with Gabriel Daniel Norwood tallying 12 points and 10 boards, the Filipinos effectively controlled the boards and dominated the interior.
Jeffrei Allan Chan added 12 points, Jayson William scored 11 and LA Tenorio continued with his surprising struggles by posting nine points on 3-of-7 shooting.
It wasn't pretty for the Philippines, as they shot just 38.3 percent from the field and 20.8 percent from three-point range. With that being said, numbers can be deceiving, as they shot 50.0 percent on two-point field goal attempts.
That's what you call making the most of your high-percentage looks.
With their ability to convert from close range, the Philippines paced their offense enough to complement their defensive intensity. Forcing the opposition into 11 turnovers and limiting quality looks, also avoiding personal fouls, this truly was a testament to the grit of this Filipino team.
Don't expect that intensity to disappear any time soon.