In a heart-pounding encounter at the Okinawa Arena, Makoto Hiejima’s heroic fourth-quarter performance led Japan to a stunning comeback victory against Venezuela, with a final score of 86-77 in the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2023. This thrilling win has elevated Japan’s classification standings and brought them closer to securing a coveted spot at the Paris 2024 Olympics.
Makoto Hiejima, a seasoned member of the Japanese national team, turned the game on its head by delivering a game-high 23 points, 17 of which came during an electrifying fourth quarter. His remarkable performance propelled Japan to overcome a daunting 15-point deficit early in the final period, ultimately securing a crucial victory.
Japan, known for their unwavering spirit, displayed the same determination that endeared them to fans in their first-round clash against Finland. The sold-out crowd of 7,374 was treated to a sensational comeback, and their unwavering support is sure to resonate once more when Akatsuki Japan seeks to seal their Olympic bid against Cape Verde on Saturday at 16:10 local time.
Although Hiejima had contributed only six points in the first three quarters, he emerged as the offensive catalyst in the decisive fourth quarter. His inspired play included scoring the final eight points during a fiery 15-2 scoring run, narrowing a substantial 68-53 deficit to just a field goal with 4:25 left on the clock.
Hiejima’s exceptional three-point play conversion gave Japan a 76-74 lead, and they never looked back from that moment. Yuki Kawamura and Yudai Baba played pivotal roles in securing the victory, making Japan the sole team in this year’s World Cup to secure multiple wins despite trailing at halftime.
Yuki Kawamura, the reigning B.League MVP, contributed significantly with 19 points and 11 assists, becoming the first player to record a double-double in points and assists for Japan in a World Cup game.
Hiejima’s six three-pointers marked a historic achievement, establishing a new record for the most three-pointers by a Japanese player in a World Cup game. The 33-year-old shooting guard displayed remarkable efficiency, shooting 67 percent from the field overall. He also contributed two rebounds and a pair of steals during his 22 minutes on the court. Hiejima has been averaging 11.0 points per game in the ongoing World Cup.
To secure their berth in Paris, Japan faces a critical showdown against the Blue Sharks on Saturday. A victory in this match would mark their second consecutive Olympic appearance, a remarkable achievement for Japanese basketball.
Head Coach Tom Hovasse praised the players for their perseverance and the incredible support from the fans: “That took a lot of guts for the players to continue doing what we’re doing. Great win for Japan basketball.”
Reflecting on the hard-fought victory, Yuta Watanabe expressed his pride in the team’s relentless effort: “That was a tough game, but we didn’t give up. We fought for 40 minutes and got the win. I’m proud of us.”