Wheelchair Basketball: Highlights from the Preliminary Matches

I volunteered for the 2017 Invictus Games in Toronto, landing a spot on the content crew. My job? Visit games sites, provide match recaps and snag stories where and when I could.

Some of my work was published on the Invictus Games 2017 website, after thorough review, editing and translation. I have more stories and snippets in my notes. I might share those one day too. It’s all outside my focus on technology and business. But these stories inspire me every day to personally focus on the important things they illustrate about the human spirit.

Ulfat Al-Zwiri and her brother Hamza / Ulfat Al-Zwiri portant sa médaille de bronze, posant avec son frère, Hamza

action from Netherlands versus Canada

New Zealand vs. Denmark: Vikings Dominate Kiwis

Teams New Zealand and Denmark kicked off Friday’s preliminary wheelchair basketball action at the Toronto Pan Am Sports Centre.

“Let’s go, Vikings, let’s go!”

The Danes clearly heard the cheers from the stands as they methodically worked their way to a 28–14 lead over the Kiwis with 3:40 left on the clock.

New Zealand didn’t help its own cause, getting into foul trouble while trying to contain the Danish fast break and dogged rebounding. Dane Maurice Manuel gave the Kiwis more than they could handle as he regularly rocketed up and down the court and fought fiercely for offensive boards. Denmark took the game 40–16.

Netherlands vs. France: Defence and Determination

The day’s second match saw France tip off against the Netherlands. Tight defence from the Dutch was the order of the day as players formed a wall at the top of the circle at the beginning of each French possession, ready to move to counter any French incursion attempt, with players on the ends breaking off to stay on top of any French coming into the key. France launched two long shots early, both misses resulting in fast breaks for their opponents and an early 4–0 lead.

France settled into a man-to-man defence that could not adequately contain the speedy Netherlands. To their credit, the French executed several breaks and passing plays, but they had difficulty scoring. Their opponents experienced no such difficulty, leaping to a 16–0 lead by halftime.

France finally ended its scoring drought to start the second half, and began defending its own board with greater determination, putting more arms in the way of Netherlands’ passes.

A French defensive rebound led to a no-look outlet pass to Fabian Frily, who promptly accelerated up the court with his teammates for a rush. France’s woes continued on the foul line as Mickaël Mayali missed his second foul shot, leading to a Dutch fast break score and the Netherlands winning the game 24–2.

United Kingdom vs. Denmark: All About Defence

Stifling, speed-enhanced team defence was the order of the match between Team Denmark and Team UK, two teams who gave no quarter as they fought to a 12–7 first-half UK lead.

Points and open floor were both hard to come by in the second half as well. Danish speed on several breaks did not result in points. A gritty, methodical UK defence limited other Danish chances. The Brits probably saw their opponent’s previous match, since they would not let speedy Dane Maurice Manuel move his chair without at least two British escorts, no matter how many fouls it cost them.

The British blockade, plus some effective playmaking in the offensive zone, put the Brits over the top and led to a 20–10 win.

Netherlands vs. Canada: Dutch Momentum

Fresh from a 24–2 drubbing of France, the Netherlands looked to maintain their momentum against the hometown Team Canada.

David Desjardins was one of Canada’s workhorses under the defensive board, relentlessly pulling down rebounds as his teammates gave the Dutch few passing lanes. Canada called a first-half timeout at 6:10, down 8–0 on the scoreboard.

The Canadians weaved their way around defenders, their shots coming up short but their arms reaching for rebounds. Canadian foul trouble saw the Dutch take the line late in the first half — and miss both throws. Teams went to their benches at the half with the Dutch up 8–0.

Alternating chants of “Let’s go, Canada, let’s go!” and “DEE – fence!” weren’t enough to get Canada over the hump. Canada fought to the end, calling a timeout with 2.7 seconds left and an inbound pass in the offensive zone. That pass resulted in a buzzer-beating three-pointer, the game’s first, and an immediate cheer and standing ovation for the home team.

The Netherlands won the game 17–8.

New Zealand vs. Australia: The Battle of Southern Hemisphere Supremacy

New Zealand may have been in a foul mood, schooled as they were by Denmark 40–16 in the day’s first match. The Kiwis gladly engaged in pre-tip jostling and sent an Aussie to the foul line 20 seconds into the game.

The offensive key proved hostile territory for both teams. During inbound passes, much of the court resounded with collisions more commonly experienced during wheelchair rugby. Players from both sides contested calls. On the scoreboard, foul counts rivalled points. Hand-slaps between opponents after contact were tinged with aggression. And yes, this is a preliminary matchup, a “friendly” game in name only.

The Kiwis drew first blood on a free throw. Teams scored as much from the floor as they did from the line. New Zealand took a hard-fought 12–9 lead going into halftime, knowing the game was anything but a sure thing.

During halftime, the audience was asked to welcome a special guest — VIMY, the Games mascot.

Australia came out all business in the second half. The Aussies inbounded, missed a shot and promptly executed a full-court press on the Kiwis. This earned Pete Arbuckle a trip to the free-throw line, where he went 1 for 2, cutting the Kiwi lead to 2 points.

The whistles, clock stoppages and visits to the foul line came even more often during the second half. Mick Collins went to the line after a Kiwi hug from behind, which might be considered either a flagrant foul or a show of affection, depending on one’s point of view.

The Aussies hemmed in the Kiwis in their own end for much of the last three minutes of the match, clawing their way to a 23–16 comeback win.

USA vs France: A Quick-moving Match

Warm-ups for the final game of the day didn’t gain anywhere near as much attention as Prince Harry did when he walked in to take a courtside seat for the match between France and the USA. Prince Harry was joined for the match by former president Barack Obama, former vice-president Joe Biden and Dr. Jill Biden.

The Americans jumped to an early nine-point lead as France failed to convert on their early chances and lost battles for defensive rebounds. The Americans showed their defensive discipline each time they walled off direct access to the key by lining up at the three-point line, peeling off one by one as the French moved into the zone.

The Americans took a comfortable 18–0 lead at halftime, as the French tried to regroup. Little changed in the second half, as the USA continued to watch their opponents like hawks as they advanced, limiting the French to shots from the three-point range.

With 5:16 left to play, the arena exploded with the loudest cheer of the match, then again with 4:40 left to play, as France earned its first point on a free throw and third point on a rush against the USA. The crowd had been cheering exclusively for France for several minutes, and the support finally paid off.

The USA won the match 28–6.

This article originally published on the Invictus Games 2017 website.

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