On the final wheelchair basketball competition day here at Ariake Arena – it was time for the men’s medal deciders in the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic. With no European representation in the Gold medal game, it was the Bronze medal game between Great Britain and Spain that would determine which European country would clinch a medal in Tokyo.
The medal match-up was a rematch of the 2019 IWBF European Championship final. At the time, it was Great Britain who beat Spain and lifted the trophy, so Spain were after revenge.
At tip-off, the respective starting line-ups knew an intense match-up was awaiting the fans. An additional factor to spice up this game: all 10 starting players currently play in the Spanish league – meaning the players knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly and would bring pre-existing rivalries to the court.
The fans got what they expected. From the first minute onwards, the teams did not give away one square centimetre easily. What developed was an intense encounter between two of the best teams in the world. At the end of the first quarter, the score was set at 13-13.
In the second quarter, Spain quickly found a better rhythm and pulled away with a 9-1 run, setting the score at 24-16 mid-way through the second. Great Britain’s reaction to the deficit: Terry Bywater. The veteran player heated up and dropped 7 points in a row, bringing his team back within range. Halftime score: 30-28 in favour of Spain.
Gaz Choudhry, GB’s player-coach, opened the second half scoring with a two-pointer to equalize the scoreboard. GB returned to the court more awake in the second half, their offensive threats coming from across the team and they made some big stops in defense, allowing them to go into the last with a 10 point lead (40-50).
Going into the last 10 minutes of this Bronze medal game, GB remained very focused, took good decisions and scored efficiently. Spain on the other side struggled in offense and missed too many easy close-range shots. Nonetheless, with 1 minute and 49 seconds left, Spain had cut GB’s lead to 5. Making for an interesting crunch-time after a GB time-out. Coming out of the time-out GB kept their nerve and Spain didn’t find the right twists to seriously threaten the GB’s Bronze medal ambitions.
Great Britain carried the game home, 58-68, and by doing so, secures the Bronze medal repeat after having finished third in Rio too. GB displayed a strong team performance on their pathway to the Bronze medal. 9 British players registered their name on the scoreboard, four of which scored in double digits (Gaz Choudhry -19pts, Terry Bywater -14pts, Gregg Warburton -10pts and Lee Manning 11pts).
For Great Britain’s Terry Bywater, it was his fourth bronze medal, he added:
“It feels like more than a bronze today for everything the team’s been through.
“Coming out here without a coach, having to have Gaz as player-coach and obviously losing that semifinal to Japan, it hurt a lot.
“I’m going back to the UK with a medal around my neck again. It’s not the colour I came for but it’s another Paralympic medal and I’m super proud.”
For a full wheelchair basketball schedule and results click here.
Photo: Shingo Ito X-1/ Quote OIS