Croatia escapes hard-fighting Gilas Pilipinas in overtime

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – Gilas Pilipinas proved to the world that it is no pushover.

In a game where the Philippine men's national basketball team was a 23-point underdog, the Philippine nationals rose to the challenge and gave FIBA-ranked 16 Croatia a tough, challenge battling through the final seconds of overtime before bowing down, 81-78, at the final buzzer in Seville, Spain.

Gilas Pilipinas, which was down by as much as 15 points in the opening period battled back starting in the second quarter to make it an exciting contest against Croatia.

The Philippines ended the first quarter down by 14, 23-9 but made a searing run in the tail end of the first half in a 7-point swing that cut Croatia's lead to 6, 37-31.

Jimmy Alapag was fouled on a three-point shot and completed the four-play before Jeff Chan nailed a triple to end the second quarter.

After playing catch-up in the first three quarters, Andray Blatche knocked down a triple at the 3:16 mark of the payoff period to tie the game at 64. Luka Zoric quickly took the lead back with a dunk but what ensued was a furious back-and-forth rally.

With 2:49 remaining, Chan was fouled while shooting a three-pointer. He hit all three from the foul line to give Gilas it's first taste of the lead, 67-66. Blatche quickly followed it up with a strong drive to the lane to give the Philippines its largest lead of the game, 69-66.

Croatia answered with a 5-point swing courtesy of back-to-back baskets from Krunoslav Simon and Dario Saric.

But with 36 seconds left, Jayson Castro tied the game at 71 with a runner in the lane. Chan had a chance to win the game but his shot was defended well by the Croatians.

In front of a loud crowd in Seville, Gilas Pilipinas battled toe-to-toe against Croatia in overtime. Gilas last held the lead at 75-73 after two free throw makes by Blatche, but Croatia would take the lead for good after Bojan Bogdanovic went 2/2 on the foul line with 41.7 seconds left on the clock giving Croatia a 77-75 advantage.

With 7.6 remaining in the game, Gilas had one final shot to tie the ball game, but Castro's shot failed to hit the bottom of the net.

The game was Gilas Pilipinas' way of announcing its re-entry into the world basketball stage. Blatche led all scorers with 28 points and 12 rebounds.

Gilas will face Greece next on August 31 at 8pm (September 1, 2am in the Philippines).

– Rappler.com