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Andray Blatche clutch triple barrage in Strong Group win proves unmatchable NBA caliber

JR Isaga

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Andray Blatche clutch triple barrage in Strong Group win proves unmatchable NBA caliber

STILL GOT IT. Strong Group Athletics-Philippines center Andray Blatche receives the ball in the 33rd Dubai International Basketball Championship

Dubai Sports

Andray Blatche and Dwight Howard flex their NBA pedigree anew as Strong Group-Philippines rises to 3-0 in Dubai following a thrilling shootout against Homenetmen-Lebanon

MANILA, Philippines – NBA players automatically get lofty expectations whenever they play anywhere else in the world, and Strong Group Athletics (SGA) just got a close-up sample on why that is always the case in the ongoing Dubai International Basketball Championship.

Playing in its third game in as many days, the stacked Philippine squad leaned on an old hero in Gilas Pilipinas naturalized veteran Andray Blatche, who exploded for 15 fourth-quarter points – all off threes – in an eventual 104-95 win over Homenetmen-Lebanon on Sunday (Monday, January 22, Manila time).

Despite being hampered by conditioning issues, the 37-year-old big man still found ways to help SGA fend off its pesky foe, parlaying his old post moves that needed quick footwork for a silky-smooth jump shot and used it to great effect.

With Homenetmen still leading at the 7:07 mark of the fourth, 77-76, Blatche’s barrage from beyond the arc pushed Strong Group ahead to a comfortable 92-83 advantage off a pivotal 16-5 run with 3:23 left to play.

Reigning UAAP MVP Kevin Quiambao, who continued to show his worth to the world with a team-high 24 points against Al Wahda-Syria, then put the finishing touches with a triple of his own at the 1:20 mark for the 99-91 separation.

He finished with 19 points on a 7-of-12 clip as SGA’s top two scorer of the night, barely edging Blatche’s 18 on 6-of-10 shooting from three.

Further proving that NBA-level skill sets are second to none is Blatche’s teammate Dwight Howard, who blew his Dubai tournament-best scoring mark of 14 out of the water with a 32-point masterclass on a near-perfect 12-of-13 clip to go with 7 rebounds and 5 blocks.

The eight-time All-Star and three-time Defensive Player of the Year, even at 38 years old, almost made it look too easy, powering down multiple dunks and short hook shots against other pro players mostly still in their athletic prime.

Homenetmen likewise had its own proof of NBA-level excellence as Zach Lofton, a former benchwarmer who only played a single game in the big league, played like a superstar in the losing effort with a game-high 37 points on a 12-of-26 clip, to go with 8 boards and 7 assists.

The 31-year-old guard also made a big splash in his brief PBA stint, exploding for 54 points in his Meralco Bolts debut – also his first game in the Philippines.

Now boasting a 3-0 record in the annual pocket tournament, Strong Group has so far proven that both its NBA-caliber stars and Filipino supporting cast are capable of pulling their own weight when it matters most.

The team now gets a much-needed break before its next game against Beirut Sports Club – Lebanon’s other representative – on Tuesday night (Wednesday, January 24, 1:15 am, Manila time).

The Scores

Strong Group-Philippines 104 – Howard 32, Quiambao 19, Blatche 18, Roberson 13, Moore 12, Baltazar 8, Heading 2, Sanchez 0, Cagulangan 0, Escandor 0.

Homenetmen-Lebanon 95 – Lofton 37, Hadidan 21, Holman 18, Jackson 16, Khalil 2, Salem 1, Akiki 0, Ajemian 0, Chivichyan 0.

Quarters: 17-24, 42-48, 71-67, 104-95.


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