Mighty China isn't unbeatable

MANILA, Philippines - Although China led most of the way in beating the Philippines for the gold medal at the recent 28th FIBA Asia Championships in Changsha, the consensus along Gilas row was the final game was winnable and despite a lineup boasting of four 7-footers, the host team wasn't invulnerable.

"I'd like to think that if we were together a few more weeks or months, the outcome would have been different," said Gilas point forward and lock-down defender Gabe Norwood yesterday. "We could have trusted our system a little more. But that comes with familiarity."

While Gilas had less than two months to prepare for the competition, China enjoyed a training period of close to six months. China even went to Italy, Russia and Serbia on an 18-day Europe trip that included playing in an international pocket tournament. Another advantage for China was a pool of 35 to 40 players from where to pick in forming the national A team. Mother clubs in the Chinese Basketball Association (CBA) had no hesitation to second players to the national squad.

Because the CBA allows each club to recruit an Asian import and two non-Asian reinforcements, there are restrictions on playing time. Only one non-Asian import is allowed to play in the fourth quarter and two non-Asian imports may play together on the floor in only two of the first three periods. An Asian import, however, may play without restriction. The thinking behind the limitations is to give more chances for Chinese players to get involved in critical game-winning situations. A source said the ultimate beneficiary is the national team. "It's not a learning experience for Chinese players if the imports handle the ball 70 percent of the game," said the source.

Gilas assistant coach Josh Reyes said there was no one real thing that decided the outcome of the final. "A part of it was the experience of playing China," he said. "It was the first time for most of our guys to play China, including Jayson (Castro). Offensively, despite providing them information on how it will be different trying to finish inside and having to attack close-outs multiple times, it still takes a feeling out period to really understand how it is and how real the adjustment should be."

Reyes pointed to national team first-timers Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva as finding it difficult to adjust to China's size advantage. "Terrence and Calvin failed to get their regular shots off before the need for adjusting sunk in," he said. "Dray's (Blatche) inside presence could be improved, too. Attacking them the right way will come with experience."

Another issue that bogged down Gilas was poor free throw shooting. The Philippines missed 11 foul shots, some at crucial stages, and China's margin of victory was, coincidentally, 11 points, 78-67.

"Missed free throws were also an issue," said Reyes. "With odds stacked against us in a number of different ways, small mistakes like missed free throws are killers. Of course, we are talking now in hindsight.  I felt that we did a good job matching their rebounding and inside game. We gave ourselves a fighting chance to win. Our players also felt that we are capable of beating them after that loss. I think that's an important take-away."

China wasn't dominant off the boards and outrebounded Gilas only by a slight margin, 46-43. Offensive rebounds were even at 11 each. As for points in the paint, the Philippines outscored China, 30-26 even as the host team was bannered by 7-2 Yi Jianlian, 7-0 Wang Zhelin and 7-1 Zhou Qi who were a combined 8-of-24 from the field. Another giant, 7-2 Li Muhao, didn't play. China's win was sealed by three more triple conversions or nine points and six more free throws made.

Alex Compton, who was also in head coach Tab Baldwin's staff, said officiating was questionable and the disruption of Gilas' warm-ups was a disturbance but "after all that, we still had a basketball game to play."

"Yes, the officiating was obviously questionable," he said. "I've read comments by Kobe Bryant and Kawhi Leonard (about the questionable officiating) who have no vested interest. And the net being changed for 10 minutes while we were supposed to be warming up was extremely timely for China. Honestly, we could have made a higher percentage of our free throws and we would have needed to shoot the ball in incredibly well to overcome the officiating and have a chance."

Compton said despite the extraneous factors, he's no conspiracy theorist looking for someone else to blame for losses. "I think my biggest take-away from that game was the fighting heart our guys showed in spite of the officiating," he said. "I believe they made the country proud. I know I was proud of them."

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