In close call with Thailand, Gilas Pilipinas gains sense of urgency
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia – It's been said that despite the basketball superiority of the Philippines over its Southeast Asia neighbors, the country can never expect to cruise to victories year in and year out, in every tournament.
Complacency will be the Filipinos' doom, and a misstep is not something it can afford.
That was made evidently clear on Sunday, August 20, when Thailand came dangerously close to pulling off a major upset of Gilas Pilipinas to open the 2017 Southeast Asian Games men's basketball tournament at the MABA Stadium here.
The Filipinos blew an early double-digit lead and found themselves at the mercy of yet another zone defense (similar to Korea in the Jones Cup) and being unable to break it because of poor outside shooting.
The Thais, who took the lead in the fourth quarter, were empowered by Thai-American Tyler Lamb, who posted a game-high 17 points with 6 rebounds on 4-of-8 shooting from deep before fouling out midway in the fourth, after which the Philippines righted the ship and sealed the victory.
A win is a win, although it cannot be ignored that the zone remains the Philippines' waterloo. And that weakness is glaring and out for the rest of Southeast Asia to see.
"We have to find a way to break the zone. (In this game), every team in this competition just saw how you could try to beat the Philippines. Just sit on that zone and wait for them to miss," Ravena put it plainly after the game.
Gilas shot a woeful 20% of its outside shots, or just 6-of-30. Even free throws were a problem as they went 15-of-26. And the Philippines didn't have to go 20-of-30. Coach Jong Uichico would have been very grateful for just 4 more made 3-pointers.
"If we made 10 out of 30 rather than 6 out of 30, it might have been a different story," he said.
Rotations mixed up
Uichico also rued the blow to his rotations with the late entry of Christian Standhardinger and the absence of Mark Belo.
Gilas is still waiting for the go signal from the SEA Games committee to allow Belo to play. He was ruled out only for the Thailand game, with his status for future games still up in the air.
"The problem really was we couldn't play Belo, that's one, and then Standhardinger, who played a lot of minutes, came from the FIBA Asia. So, it just screws up things a little bit," Uichico explained.
"The guy came from FIBA, never practiced with us, and he's here playing 20 minutes, then you have Belo playing in practice for the last 9 days and then all of a sudden not being able to play? It just mixes my rotation up, you're trying to play with them together, then all of a sudden one can't play and you stick in somebody else, it just destroys your rotation and people that play together for quite some time."
Ray Parks, who had 14 points, 3 assists, 4 steals, a lot of energy, and the crucial play that fouled out Lamb in the fourth, pointed to the importance of setting the tone early.
"Right now we just gotta get used to the pace. We gotta implement our style of play early, and we definitely have to box out," he said.
"One of the things the coaches said is we have to make sure to box out a team like Thailand. They're a great offensive rebounding team, we gotta get back to the drawing board and get used to fighting against these teams. These teams are gonna zone us so we need to shoot better also."
One indicator of a change in Gilas' game is having just 4 fastbreak points (although Thailand had none).
Whatever the reason for the Philippines' near-disaster Sunday night, the point was that they've been rudely awoken with a cold bucket of water on their heads. And they've gained a sense of urgency.
Other teams will continue to grow more eager and emboldened. And as Ravena pointed out, the new playing format won't make it easy for the Philippines.
"Sabi nga ni coach Jimmy (Alapag), he said it perfectly, talunin kami ng kahit sinong team dito, para na silang nag-gold medal. Yun na yung season nila. Tapos na, kaya na sila nag-SEA Games dahil natalo nila yung Philippines, enough said," explained Ravena, who is playing his fourth straight SEA Games.
(As coach Jimmy explained, he said it perfectly, if any of the teams here beat us, it'll be like they won gold. That's their season. It's over, they went to the SEA Games to beat the Philippines, enough said.)
"The target is getting bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. Maybe for us, sense of urgency and self-awareness that it is getting bigger. You can’t relax against any team, especially pag dating nito may tsansang makatapat ulit namin yung Thailand (now when there's a chance we'll face Thailand again)."
"Hindi katulad ng dating format, isang kalaban mo lang, pataasan na tayo ng panalo. Ngayon may crossover pa. They’re giving chances to the other team. We have to avoid games like this," he added.
(The format isn't like before where you play each team once and the team with the most wins is the champion. Now there's a crossover format.) – Rappler.com