FIBA Olympic Qualifier: Gallant Gilas bows to fearsome France

Rico S. Navarro (The Freeman) - July 7, 2016 - 12:00am

PASAY CITY, Philippines — In a game between a David and Goliath, David had its chances but the might, experience and talent of Goliath kicked in and doused a chance of a major upset, but not before facing a tough challenge from the underdogs. This was the main story behind France’s 93-84 win over the Philippines at the FIBA Olympic Qualifier Tournament at the Mall of Asia Arena late Tuesday night.

Pumped-up playing before a loud and solid hometown crowd led by President Rodrigo Duterte, Gilas started out hot with Andray Blatche’s fast break dunk kicking things off and sending the crowd wild.

Gilas' road on the momentum and opened up a 10-point lead in the opening salvo at 28-18, showing the visitors that they weren’t intimidated by the fifth-ranked team in the world. France recovered to slice the deficit to 30-22 to end the first period before slowly but surely launching its own counter-attack.

The second and third quarters turned in to the Nando de Colo and Tony Parker show as the two guards combined for 15 points to rally France to a 45-43 halftime lead. The duo simply took over in the third quarter with a combined 20 points to give France more breathing room at 77-66 after three quarters.

Joffrey Lauvergne gave France its biggest taste of the lead at 79-66 to start the fourth quarter before Gilas Pilipinas woke up and made one last charge for a possible upset.

Ryan Reyes and Terrence Romeo drilled back-to-back triples in a 9-2 run to pull within 75-81, waking up the crowd which had to watch de Colo and Parker show earlier. Gabe Norwood sliced the deficit four at 81-85 with 3:09 left in the game.

At this point, the crowd was on its feet with alternating chants of “Puso” and “Defense” reverberating across the MOA Arena, with Calvin Abueva and Jimmy Alapag standing behind the Gilas bench, egging on the crowd. But like the veterans that they are, France never wilted.

Boris Diaw, who Parker later acknowledged as quietly leading the team, made a lay-up before Kim Tillie scored four straight points to seal the win at 91-81 with 1:10 left. De Colo made a lay-up for good measure, 93-81, but Gilas never gave up with Ranidel de Ocampo drilling a triple for the final score.

It was display of using one’s strengths, poise, exposure and experience for France as they never caved in against the home team, with de Colo scoring a game-high 27 points and Parker adding 21. They were big, fast and scored on easy drives and lay-ups to the basket.

When they were rested on the bench, France’s big men stepped up with Diaw, Tillie and Lauvergne combining for 29 points. Diaw also grabbed nine rebounds and dished out six assists. Blatche scattered 21 points while Romeo had 19. Jayson Castro added 14.

At the post-game press conference, Parks praised the Philippine team, citing that the guards were aggressive. “It was tough, they made it tough on us,” Parker said. He then added that he had a great time and a lot of fun when asked about having to play against the home crowd.

France head coach Vincent Collet also cited the Philippine team, saying they played a “great game,” and that it was the France defense in the second quarter that set the tone for the win. He also added that with everyone focusing on Parker and Diaw, de Colo had the opportunity to step up for the team.

For his part, Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin said France did a good job of forcing turnovers, with Parker and Diaw stepping up to control the game. “France did a good job of forcing us into turnovers; they also went to their strengths,” he said.

The Philippines was in a must-win situation late last night against New Zealand to make it to the cross-over semifinals on Saturday.

In the other game, Canada defeated Turkey, 77-69, with NBA veterans Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson leading the way with 21 and 10 points, respectively. If Gilas won last night, they will most likely face Canada in the semifinals. (FREEMAN)

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