FIBA Asia Cup

Breaking down Gilas’ big win over Thailand

Ariel Ian Clarito
Breaking down Gilas’ big win over Thailand

KEY COG. Juan Gomez de Liaño plays a key role in Gilas Pilipinas’ opening campaign in the second window of the qualifiers.

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Dwight Ramos showcases his entire arsenal, Justine Baltazar and Rey Suerte prove their worth, while Juan Gomez de Liaño emerges as a spark plug

The 32-point blowout win by Gilas Pilipinas in the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers on Friday, November 27 in Manama, Bahrain had some fans saying it was an expected victory over an overmatched Thailand national team.

This kind of narrative speaks of a lack of appreciation for the impressive showing of the rejigged Gilas national squad that had barely two weeks to prepare for the competition. 

Consider that the young men carrying the Philippine colors probably had their last organized game before the country went on lockdown last March. The game against the vastly experienced Thais was not only their first game in more than half a year, it was also their first time to play together as a team.

The Thais, on the other hand, are fresh off the Thailand Basketball League (TBL) which ended last August. Eight players and the coach of the team that won the TBL, Hi-Tech Bangkok City, were included in the Thailand national team. 

Most of the players representing the Thais were part of their team that won the SEA Games silver and also gave the heavily favored South Koreans a scare in the first window of the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers, where they lost by just 7 points last February. 

Yet, the Gilas Pilipinas team, which has an average age of just 22.7 years old, led by as many as 36 points and dominated its older opponent en route to a 93-61 victory.

Although the Thais were taller and heftier, the young Filipinos went toe-to-toe in the battle off the boards which ended up even with both teams grabbing 43 rebounds. 

In a short span of time, coach Jong Uichico has been able to build a team that was relentless in applying defensive pressure on the Thais. Gilas’ athleticism and quickness proved the main difference as they registered 9 steals and overwhelmed the Thais, who were forced into 22 turnovers. 

The Philippines converted 28 points off these Thai errors, compared to just 9 points by Thailand as Gilas turned the ball over only 10 times. The young Filipinos also were quicker in transition as they scored 14 fastbreak points compared to 6 by Thailand. 

Although both squads sank 10 triples each, the Gilas players attacked the basket more and were more efficient from the two-point area by making 59.5% of their attempts. The team converted almost half of its overall shot attempts to finish with a 47.9% clip from the field, while holding down the Thais to just 29.7% shooting. 

A number of players stood out for Gilas Pilipinas in its overpowering performance over Thailand. 

Dwight Ramos already showed a glimpse of what he could bring to the table when he played for the national team in their win over Indonesia last February.

Against Thailand, Ramos showcased his entire arsenal as he starred with 20 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the floor (including 2 triples) and 4-of-4 from the free throw line. He also led the team in rebounds with 7, and steals with 3, aside from dishing out 3 assists.

Justine Baltazar and Rey Suerte kicked off the Gilas attack in the opening canto. Baltazar was a pillar of strength for Gilas even as he was matched up against the TBL Most Valuable Player, 6-foot-8 Chanatip Jakrawan. He helped limit Jakrawan to just 5 markers. 

Baltazar scored 6 points right in the 1st quarter and finished with 12 points, 6 boards, and 1 block. He proved to be the most valuable component of Uichico’s rotation as Gilas was at +32 whenever Baltazar was on the floor. 

The 26-year-old Suerte, the most senior player in the Gilas lineup, was the team’s starting shooting guard and contributed 9 points. The former CESAFI MVP was also efficient on offense as he shot 50% from the field. 

The Gomez de Liaño brothers, Juan and Javi, were a combined 4-of-11 from the three-point area. The younger Gomez de Liaño, Juan, was the spark plug that ignited the Gilas breakaway as he dropped 3 triples in the 2nd quarter of the game. He finished with 12 points, 3 assists, and 4 rebounds. Javi, meanwhile, scored 9 points. 

Two players who did not figure prominently in the stat sheets were actually major contributors to Gilas’ success. 

Next to Ramos and Baltazar, Matt Nieto added the most value to the team as he registered +25 whenever he was quarterbacking the team. Nieto has always been able to impact a game even when he is not scoring. He showed his value and controlled playmaking once again versus Thailand as he led the Philippines with 6 assists.

Kobe Paras will be remembered for his highlight left-handed slam early in the 1st quarter. The reality is, he helped the team in a lot of other ways as he served as one of the defensive anchors of the team in the low block. 

Paras’ length and mobility was also used to the hilt in a couple of sequences when the team employed its pressing defense. He tied Ramos with 7 rebounds to pace the team. Paras was also at +16 whenever he took the floor, fourth among all Gilas players to have the highest positive impact on the game.

Gilas Pilipinas will play Thailand once more on Monday, November 30. Before that, Thailand will face its arch nemesis, Indonesia on Saturday, November 28. 

Gilas could face a vastly improved Thailand on Monday, or a badly deflated and tired squad. Either way, expect Gilas Pilipinas to continue to build on its gains from the first win and show no let-up as the young Filipinos try to leave the FIBA Asia Cup qualifiers with two resounding victories. –