Gilas Pilipinas looks to unlock unpredictable Brazil in Olympic qualifying semis

Ariel Ian Clarito

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Gilas Pilipinas looks to unlock unpredictable Brazil in Olympic qualifying semis

STALWARTS. Brazil's Lucas Dias and Leo Meindl celebrate during the FIBA Olympic qualifiers.


Inching closer to what seemed an unlikely Olympic berth, Gilas Pilipinas faces a fluid and cohesive Brazilian team ranked No. 12 in the world and bannered by players with NBA pedigree

MANILA, Philippines – Reaching the semifinals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament is already a massive accomplishment for Gilas Pilipinas

The overachieving Filipinos were not expected to pull the rug from under Latvia and beat the world No. 6 on their home floor. 

Prior to the qualifiers, Gilas was also regarded a clear underdog versus world No. 23 Georgia.

But the goal laid out by coach Tim Cone to the team was not to merely reach the semis. Cone stated, very clearly so as to leave no room for misunderstanding nor misinterpretation, that the goal was to win the tournament – no matter how improbable it looked.

With that plan on track, Gilas Pilipinas now stands two wins away from a ticket to the Paris Olympics. 

Standing in the way of the Philippines in the semifinals is Group B top seed and world No. 12 Brazil.

Brazil made it to the semifinals by virtue of its 82-71 victory on opening day over world No. 17 Montenegro, which was led by two-time NBA All Star Nikola Vucevic. 

In the second game, Brazil needed a win or a loss by no more than 14 points against Cameroon to secure the top spot in Group B.  

But at one point, the Brazilians found themselves trailing by 20 points, 36-56, against the No. 68 Cameroonians in the second quarter. Brazil then outscored Cameroon, 19-9, in the fourth to narrow the gap before losing by just three, 77-74. 

Although Brazil seemed unpredictable, Gilas Pilipinas will face a fluid and cohesive unit made up of nine players who were part of the squad which reached the second round and finished 13th in the 2023 FIBA World Cup. 

In the first round held in Jakarta, Brazil pummeled Iran, 100-89, and prevailed over Ivory Coast, 89-77. The squad finished second in Group G after losing to Spain, 96-78. 

In the second round, Brazil stunned eventual third-placer Canada, 69-65, but got eliminated by Latvia, 104-84.

Mentored by returning coach Aleksandar Petrovic of Croatia, Brazil does not boast of an imposing frontline like Georgia or even Latvia. 

In fact, the Brazilians’ only legitimate center is 6-foot-9 Cristiano Felicio, who plays for Granada in the Spanish Liga ACB. 

Conspicuously missing in the FIBA OQT is 6-foot-11 American-Brazilian Tim Soares, who averaged close to 10 points in the World Cup.

Brazil, though, has a pair of athletic 6-foot-9 forwards who both can shoot from outside and are averaging in double figures in the OQT – Lucas  Dias and Bruno Caboclo.

Caboclo, who played seven seasons in the NBA for Toronto, Sacramento, Memphis, and Houston, leads Brazil in scoring in the OQT with 17.5 points, while Dias is norming 12 points per outing.

But Caboclo is not the only Brazilian with NBA pedigree as former LA Lakers Marcelo Huertas is Petrovic’s court general, while 6-foot-6 Gui Santos, who played 23 games this past season with the Golden State Warriors, is a nightmare matchup in the wings. 

Huertes is contributing 10.5 points and 3.5 assists in the OQT. 

Another Brazilian, 6-foot-7 Leo Meindl who is a member of the Tokyo Alvark in the Japan B. League, is also registering double digits in points with 14.5 a game. 

Though Gilas won the rebounding battle versus Latvia and Georgia, they will be mirrored by a tenacious Brazilian team which is also relentless in crashing the glass. 

Brazil is averaging 38 rebounds in their two games in the group stage, even outrebounding the imposing squad of Cameroon. 

Gilas, on the other hand, is norming 39.5 boards in its first two games.

Cone will have to be prepared for which version of Brazil shows up in their semifinal encounter.

Against Montenegro, the Brazilians attacked the basket and raced off on transition every chance they got. 

This resulted in them scoring 42 points in the paint, 4 more than the bigger Montenegrins. Brazil also had 22 fastbreak points against just 4 by Montenegro. Brazil only sank six triples out of 15 attempts in the game.

In their second game, Brazil transformed into an outside shooting squad, converting 13 triples from 38 attempts. They tried to slow down the game and shot just 24 times from two and only had 4 fastbreak points. 

Also similar to Gilas, Brazil mostly lives and dies with a nine-man rotation, but the load is spread out with eight players on the floor at least 15 minutes per game. 

The Brazil bench is contributing 24 points per game compared to just 12 by the Gilas bench.

Expect a barnburner of a semifinal encounter between the history-seeking Gilas Pilipinas and Brazil – which is eyeing a return to the Olympics after missing out on the Tokyo edition – on Saturday, July 6, at 8:30 pm, Manila time.

Gilas Pilipinas will once again be regarded the underdog, a tag Cone does not seem to mind as he and his team have already shown they can keep in step with any team in the competition. – 

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