No surprise ending in Lebanon
SPORTING CHANCE - Joaquin M. Henson (The Philippine Star) - August 21, 2017 - 4:00pm

Gilas wound up seventh in the 16-team FIBA Asia Cup in Lebanon and it was no surprise, considering the limited training that coach Chot Reyes had to cope with. Reyes never had the luxury of a complete lineup to work with in the gym and the national squad played only one practice game against the Gilas pool for the SEA Games. So how could anyone expect a higher finish? Placing seventh, in fact, was a respectable finish considering the Philippines ended up ninth in 2007 and eighth in 2009.

The consolation is the FIBA Asia Cup wasn’t a qualifier for either the FIBA World Cup or the Olympics. It was a stand-alone tournament where world standings and bragging rights were on the line. World standings are critical in positioning teams for seeding in future draws. The higher seeds are spread out in different brackets so they don’t meet up early in the eliminations.

The Philippines has progressed remarkably since 2010 when Gilas was ranked No. 53 by FIBA. In 2011, it went up to No. 45 then two years later, to No. 34 and in 2014, to No 31. Before the FIBA Asia Cup, the Philippines was No. 27, China No. 14, Iran No. 24, Jordan No. 28, South Korea No. 30 and Lebanon No. 43. The showing in Lebanon, however, will drop the Philippines down. China will also take a slide after finishing fifth behind Australia, Iran, South Korea and New Zealand. South Korea and Lebanon will move up. Lebanon lost to China, 79-78, in the playoff for fifth but beat the Philippines, 106-87, previously.

In 2009, the Philippines bowed to Jordan, 81-70, in the knockout quarterfinals then lost to Qatar, 83-65 and to South Korea, 82-80, in finishing eighth. That would’ve been the route for Gilas if it lost to Jordan last Sunday. The Philippines clinched seventh spot by beating Jordan, 75-70, with Terrence Romeo and Matthew Wright scoring 13 apiece.

* * * *

In Lebanon, the Philippines got off to a fiery start, beating China, 96-87, Iraq, 84-68 and Qatar, 80-74, in succession to sweep Group B and advance to the knockout quarterfinals automatically. Since Gilas paraded a virtually brand-new lineup with only four remnants from the 2015 squad in Changsha, the Philippines wasn’t well-scouted. So Gilas got by its first three games unscathed despite lack of preparation time. The team relied on Reyes’ basic principles and the players’ skills to jumpstart its campaign.

Then, the roof caved in. South Korea obviously knew what to do in the game against Gilas in the quarterfinals. By then, Gilas had been scouted. Romeo erupted for 22 points in the second period then was shut down the rest of the way as the Koreans adjusted their defense to focus on forcing the Man With The Golden Arm to pass instead of shoot. While the Koreans adjusted, Gilas didn’t and that’s because readjustments are worked on at practice – they don’t happen by instinct or accident. Reyes had just enough time to work on the basics given the limited practice hours. 

What killed Gilas in losing a 118-86 decision to South Korea was its lack of team defense. Gilas couldn’t rely on individual defense – they had to work cooperatively because it’s the only way to stop the Koreans who like to use back picks, ball-screens and hand-offs to free up shooters for good looks. South Korea blasted the Philippines behind a scorching 76.2 percent clip from beyond the arc or 16-of-21 triples. That kind of accuracy is only possible when the defense allows it. You give the Koreans the open look, they’ll knock down the three. The Koreans had more assists, 34-14 and fastbreak points, 17-7, two indications that Gilas went to sleep defensively in the game.

Gilas didn’t do badly in offense, shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point distance but the battle was clearly won on the defensive end. The Philippines’ defense didn’t show up and the Koreans took advantage.

* * * * 

It was the same story in the game against Lebanon. Fadi El-Khatib, 38, torched Gilas for 36 points and the Philippines had no antidote to stop the ageless wonder who’s called the Tiger. Gilas never led in the blowout. Christian Standhardinger didn’t play as he exited to join the other Gilas team in Kuala Lumpur and his absence left a gaping hole in the middle. Lebanon had more rebounds, 44-29, more fastbreak points, 24-10 and more assists, 27-17 to cream Gilas, 106-87. The other thorn in Gilas’ side was 6-11 Norvel Pelle, a naturalized import who holds passports from Antigua, the US and Lebanon. Pelle dazzled Gilas with 23 points, 13 rebounds and nine blocks.

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