MANILA (Philippines) - Highly-fancied Futian (CHN) opened the FIBA 3x3 Manila Masters 2023 in style on May 20 to signal their title credentials.
Let's recap Day One of the second Masters of the season as the World Tour returned to hoops-crazy Philippines.
There was a lot of hype over Futian, who recruited superstars Thibaut Vervoort and Dimeo van der Horst to play alongside Chinese players Hanyu Guo and Dianliang Zhang.
They didn't disappoint with a thrilling 21-19 victory over Amsterdam HiPRO (NED) and then a crushing 22-10 win over Tsukuba (JPN).
The new dynamic duo of van der Horst and Vervoot were spectacular with a combined 27 points as they continually hit big shots. None was bigger than Vervoort's Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater from deep to sink Amsterdam.
No.1 seeds Ub Huishan NE (SRB), San Juan (PUR) and Beijing (CHN) - led by superstars Karlis Lasmanis and Nauris Miezis in their World Tour debuts for their new team - were also unbeaten.
In his World Tour debut for Futian, van der Horst fittingly faced off against his former team Amsterdam HiPRO and he won the bragging rights.
The Dutchman started hot and finished with a game-high 9 points, but he wasn't going to ease his foot on the gas against Tsukuba.
He poured in 7 points, including a thunderous one-handed slam followed by a roar, and his day's work was complete with the game sealing two-pointer as he celebrated with a little air guitar.
Defending champs Ub Huishan NE didn't quite look unbeatable coming into the event without muscular Nemanja Barac, who missed due to a leg injury.
But Ub had no problems first up with a huge 21-9 victory over Manila Chooks (PHI) as sniper Marko Brankovic shot a perfect 100% from the half-court.
Ub, however, were ice cold against in-form Utsunomiya BREX EXE (JPN) as they suddenly trailed 6-0. It soon became 10-2 before Ub woke up and started to show why they are the world's best team.
No.1 player Strahinja Stojacic found his range, but it seemed too little too late as Marko Milakovic went bang, bang to get Utsunomiya to a 20-17 lead and so close to a major upset.
But as they've shown many times before, the Serbs can't be counted out until it's all done and they stormed back to tie it up. Stojacic was once again Ub's hero with the winning lay-up to break Utsunomiya's hearts.
THE BUZZER BEATER
We've heard a lot about Puerto Rico's New Gen and San Juan (PUR) delivered on a strong Day One, which started with a thrilling 22-20 victory over No.2 seeds Riga (LAT).
The Puerto Ricans had the edge throughout, but you just knew Riga would storm back and they did exactly that as this game went down to the wire.
With the scores level at 20 apiece, the Wilson was in the hands of young star Antonio Ralat, who called game with a step back two in an incredible Maurice Lacroix Buzzer Beater.
Ralat scored another two-piece to complete San Juan's comfortable victory over Dusseldorf LFDY (GER) and wrap up a perfect Day One.
Hometown heroes Manila Chooks were knocked out after losing to No.1 seeds Ub Huishan NE and Utsunomiya BREX EXE in a thriller.
But the fans at the Glorietta Activity Center still had plenty to cheer about, especially when natural born entertainer Mac Tallo put on a show.
Against Ub's nasty defense, 'Spida' was poisonous with a banked two, insane crossover and behind the back dime.
Ub Huishan NE (SRB) vs Amsterdam HiPRO (NED)
Beijing (CHN) vs Riga (LAT)
San Juan vs Sansar MMC Energy (MGL)
Futian (CHN) vs Utsunomiya BREX EXE (JPN)
*Worthy de Jong continued to make a strong start for his new team with an insane triple five against Futian: 15 points, 5 rebounds, 5 highlights
*Karlis Lasmanis scored 16 points in his Beijing debut on the World Tour and shot 75% on one-pointers.
*Ub's Marko Brankovic was red-hot to finish No.1 in points (20) and player value (25.6)