Gilas faces injury-plagued Puerto Rico, Balkman for survival
SEVILLE, Spain – The Gilas Pilipinas match against Puerto Rico on Wednesday, September 3 holds plenty of interesting storylines. It's a must-win situation for the Philippines and could very well go down to the contribution of a few key players and match-ups.
Both teams have yet to register a win in the 2014 FIBA World Cup owing to their inability to maintain leads and finish strong in the payoff period.
Battle of the guards
Puerto Rico's defense will key in on Alapag after the 5-foot-9 quarterback put on a shooting exhibition against Argentina. He knocked down 5/7 three-point field goals in key moments of the game to give his team a fighting chance to win.
The Talk 'N Text mainstay, who has lived up to his billing as the Gilas team captain, provides the team with stability. He also has a knack for bailing out Gilas out of sticky situations thanks to his timely long-range bombs.
How he responds to the kind of defense Puerto Rico will throw at him could directly impact the Philippines' chances of winning.
On the other end, JJ Barea should give Gilas' point guards a headache chasing him around the floor.
For better or worse, another one of Puerto Rico's better backcourt players might not be available to play when they tussle with the Philippines.
Carlos Arroyo, a former NBA journeyman, sprained his ankle in his team's loss to Senegal and could be done for the rest of the tournament. He was not on the court during his team's morning practice Tuesday, September 2.
Angel Vassallo, a 6-foot-6 forward for Puerto Rico, is confirmed to be out for the game due to a calf injury he sustained against Senegal, reports El Nuevo Dia's Carlos Rosa
Balkman vs the Philippines
Wednesday evening’s game will also be the first time Renaldo Balkman confronts the national team of the country that banned him from it's premier professional basketball league following a choking incident.
In March 2013, Balkman suited up for the Petron Blaze Boosters (who has now reverted to its franchise's original name, San Miguel Beermen) in one of the Philippine Basketball Association's (PBA) tournaments that featured a foreign player for each team.
Balkman and the Boosters seemed invincible then but encountered a road block in the Alaska Aces and found themselves trailing by a large margin for the first time in the tournament. Balkman, out of frustration and possibly aggravated by the physicality of the game, lost his cool. Teammate Arwind Santos tried to calm him down but instead suffered the brunt of the Puerto Rican player.
Balkman grabbed Santos by the neck in front of thousands of viewers in the venue and tens of thousands more on national television. The two have spoken and made up since, but the PBA still banned the ill-tempered forward from ever playing in the league.
Gilas center June Mar Fajardo, who was Balkman’s teammate at the time, tells Rappler that the incident is in the past but it’ll be all business once the teams are on the court.
"Wala namang hurt sa amin... ano, professional naman kami. Okay naman kami,” said Fajardo.
(There are no hard feelings between us. We're professionals. We're okay.)
Controversies aside, Balkman is a key piece in Puerto Rico's system. He hangs around just outside of the paint area ready to battle for rebounds and receive passes from Barea for a strong finish to the rim.
Gilas must be able to limit his production by packing the paint on defense similar to how they did against Argentina.
Balkman is to Puerto Rico what Marc Pingris is to Gilas. He provides the team with energy and hustle and the intangibles he brings fires up not just his teammates but also the Puerto Rican crowd.
Despite piling up losses, the Puerto Rican crowd in Spain has consistently been among the loudest cheering for its national cagers - similar to how Filipinos, like those who flew from all over the world to Spain, show their support for Gilas Pilipinas.
There will be no homecourt advantage for either side but the Palacio Municipal de Deportes will be witness to an electrified audience beaming with pride chanting for their national ball clubs.
Game tips off at 1:30 pm in Spain (7:30 pm in the Philippines). Gilas will have one more game in the group stage on Thursday night against Senegal. – Rappler.com