Awesome Omar Abdulrahman and unlucky Al-Hilal: Five things we learned from the AFC Champions League group stage

Omar Abdulrahman was key to Al-Ain's progress to the second round.
Updated 17 April 2018
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Awesome Omar Abdulrahman and unlucky Al-Hilal: Five things we learned from the AFC Champions League group stage

  • Al-Hilal exit can be explained by bad luck with injuries.
  • Omar Abdulrahman found form to power Al-Ain to knockout stages.

The group stage of this year’s AFC Champions League finishes today after two months of great goals, shocks and sackings. Here are five things we have learned ahead of the knockout stage.
SHORT-CHANGED SAUDI ARABIA

Saudi Arabia are the most successful West Asian nation in terms of continental club championships won — only Japan and South Korea have bagged more. So it does not sit right that this continental powerhouse had only two teams in the group stage. Iran had four, the UAE had four and Qatar had four, so it seems strange that Saudi Arabia (provider of two teams in the past four finals) had just the two. If those other nations deserved to have a quartet in the group stage, then so did Saudi Arabia.

INJURIES HAMPER AL-HILAL

It was only last November when Al-Hilal were unlucky to lose the final of the AFC Champions League. The Riyadh giants should have won against Urawa Reds, but were hampered by the injury to star Brazilian attacking midfielder Carlos Eduardo in the first leg. If he had stayed on the pitch, Al-Hilal might have won the title and also got out of their group. Add in the fact Omar Khribin played no part in this year’s group stages, also because of injury, and you can see why the Saudi powerhouses might be bemoaning their luck.

EAST ASIA HOLDS NO FEARS

There are two teams that look especially dangerous in the eastern side of the draw — Shanghai SIPG of China and South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. With Hulk and Oscar, the Chinese team have the firepower to trouble the best Asian defenses. Jeonbuk have strength in depth and an experience in the competition that is hard to match. Apart from that duo, though, there is little West Asian teams have to fear.

UAE HOPES REAT ON OMAR

Al-Ain may have been champions in 2003 and runners-up in 2016, but they struggled in the group stage with no wins in the first four games. Ultimately, it was left to Omar Abdulrahman to step forward in the final two games to inspire his team to two wins and second place in Group D. If Al-Ain are to repeat their earlier success than it all depends on their much-lauded playmaker. If he does not shine in Asia, neither do they.
 
UZBEKS DISAPPOINT AGAIN

There is real talent in the Central Asian nation, but for some reason their teams rarely make any impact. Whether at club or country level, Uzbekistan sides never quite deliver. The national team has been on the brink of World Cup qualification more than once, but when the big prize has been in sight, they have failed to step up. It is the same at club level where they rarely fulfil their potential.


Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

Boston Celtics forward Jayson Tatum attempts a layup in front of Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James during the third quarter of game five of the Eastern conference finals of the 2018 NBA Playoffs at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
Updated 24 May 2018
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Celtics beat Cavs in Game 5, lead NBA Eastern Conference finals 3-2

  • Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and the Celtics held LeBron James to two fourth-quarter points.
  • Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary.

BOSTON: LeBron James is tired. The young Boston Celtics seem to be getting stronger.
Rookie Jayson Tatum scored 24 points — his ninth 20-point game of the postseason — and Boston beat Cleveland 96-83 on Wednesday night to take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics held James to two fourth-quarter points, earning their 10th straight victory in Boston to remain perfect at home this postseason and move within one win of their first trip to the NBA Finals since 2010.
“I just enjoy playing in the big moments, in the big games. That’s when I have the most fun,” said Tatum, who needs one more 20-point game to tie Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s rookie record of 10 in a postseason.
“I can’t say it enough: We’re one win away from being in the finals,” Tatum said. “The playoffs bring the best out of people.”
Game 6 is in Cleveland on Friday night, with the decisive seventh game back in Boston on Sunday if necessary. The home team has won every game so far in the series, and none has been closer than nine points.
“We’re looking forward to having an opportunity to force a Game 7,” said James, who had 26 points and 10 rebounds but also had six turnovers. “It’s up to us to see if we can come back here for one more.”
Al Horford had 15 points and 12 rebounds, and 21-year-old Jaylen Brown had 17 points for Boston. Tatum added seven rebounds, four assists and four steals one day after finishing a single vote shy of a unanimous selection to the NBA’s All-Rookie team.
“The sky’s the limit” for Tatum , Brown said. “He’s going to continue to get better. He’s my workout partner. I expect it in myself and I expect it in him.”
Kevin Love scored 14 points for the Cavaliers, who are trying to reach the finals for the fourth consecutive season. James has played to the end in seven straight seasons.
To extend that streak, he’ll need to win two in a row.
One of them will be in Boston.
“Our focus — LeBron’s focus — is to win,” Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said. “That’s the only thing that matters.”
The Celtics opened a double-digit lead in the first quarter and nursed it the rest of the way, holding on through a four-minute scoring drought that saw Cleveland score nine straight points to cut the deficit to 83-71. But Terry Rozier hit Horford with an alley-oop to snap the skid, and that was as close as the Cavs would get.
Reserves Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart each scored 13.

FADING STAR
James had one basket on four shots in the fourth quarter, and afterward conceded that he was worn down. He finished 1 for 6 from 3-point range in the game; the Cavaliers made just 9 of 34 attempts from beyond the arc and shot just 42 percent overall.
“I had my moments, but I think everybody at this point is tired, worn down whatever the case may be,” he said. “I was still trying to make plays, put our team in position to win.”

GOONING IT UP
Boston went on a 15-3 run in the first quarter to turn a three-point deficit into a nine-point lead. The Celtics scored nine in a row at the end of the first quarter and into the second to take a 36-19 lead, their biggest of the game.
That’s when the Cavaliers fought back .
After a hard defensive play by Morris sent Larry Nance Jr. into the first row of seats, Morris appeared to wander over and say something. Nance to jump up and body checked him; Morris responded with a one-handed shove to the face.
Aron Baynes and Brown came in to break it up, and Terry Rozier put a body on Nance. After a review, the referees called technicals on Rozier, Nance and Morris. Kyle Korver made the foul shot to make it 36-20 and Cleveland went on a 9-0 run to cut the deficit to eight points, 36-28.
But Morris made a long 3-pointer to stop the scoring drought, and soon hit another to cap an 8-2 run that made it a double-digit lead.
Smart said the Celtics wanted to more aggressive at home.
“At their place, they were the aggressor,” he said. “That showed and they came up with the victory. We just wanted to be that team tonight.”

TIP-INS
Teams that win Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead in a best-of-seven series win 83 percent of the time. ... James had 16 points, four rebounds and three assists at the half. Tatum had 13 points, and Horford had 10 points and seven boards at the break. ... Baynes made his first start of the series, subbing for Morris. ... It took until midway through the third quarter for a Cavs starter other than James or Love to make a basket. J.R. Smith sank a floater to make it 63-50, and George Hill followed with a jumper of his own. ... The Celtics were 10-0 in the playoffs at home in 1986. ... Horford had his 7th double-double of the postseason, matching a career high he set in 2015.