If we were going to beat China in the gold medal game of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, every single one of our Gilas brothers who stepped on the floor needed to come up with an otherworldly effort. Why? Because the Chinese team is composed of gigantic, agile men who move with the precision of androids designed to play hoops.
Plus, they’ve got homecourt advantage, and a handful of questionable whistles going in their favor. So, in the end of the championship encounter, which saw Yi Jianlian and company finishing on top of the tournament and booking a ticket to Rio with the 78-67 win, our Olympic dream was put on hold (although it certainly isn't over yet, as you'll know in a bit).
On the bright side, Gilas may not have ended their campaign in Changsha the way we were dreaming of for the past few days but we've got nothing to be ashamed of. The Chinese squad was a strong team and they deserved to be named this year's FIBA Asia champions, and our boys played to the best of their abilities to hang with their rivals despite the challenges on and off the court (have you heard of that electric bus incident?)
And, hey, we just won back-to-back silvers in the prestigious biennial tourney, that's not bad at all.
That being said, below are the highlights of the Philippines vs. China finals match-up.
Let's start with the champions...
In the first half, the Chinese bigs, led by Qi "The next Yao Ming" Zhou tormented our undersized frontcourt with a 26 to 16 rebounding edge. The 19-year-old center's inside presence spearheaded a 46-35 cushion at halftime—a lead that China never surrendered.
With four seven-footers in their roster, China's defensive recovery was immaculate, a factor that made life hell for our main men Jayson Castro and Andray Blatche, ultimately enabling the Chinese nationals to run away with the win.
China's best big man, Yi, who won the tournament MVP plum, made sure that Gilas' mini-runs would be futile by hitting timely baskets in the second half. Yi's guard-like mobility was a nightmare for our bigs. Tallying 11 points, 15 rebounds, and 2 blocks, the Chinese veteran sealed his team’s victory and redeemed himself from an injury-riddled campaign in the 2013 edition of the tournament.
CHINA'S OFFENSIVE JUGGERNAUT
Using man-to-man defense, Gilas would be eaten alive as their adversaries were way bigger and arguably just as fast. We had no choice but (2-3) zone 'em up. The problem with the defensive strategy, however, was China's sweet stroke from the three-point land. The Chinese snipers ended up burning us with nine triples on a 37.5-percent shooting clip.
Only Gilas' immeasurable #puso allowed them to keep in step despite the sublime marksmanship led by Gen Li. China’s chubby shooter was three out of four from deep, two of which were consecutive treys in the third period that felt like cold daggers. Team China did exactly what they needed to do to beat the zone and, ultimately, Team Philippines.
CHINA'S ACE POINT GUARD
Take Blatche out of the equation and Gilas’ greatest asset is undoubtedly Castro. To beat the Philippines, China needed its chief playmaker, Ailun Guo, to match The Blur’s impact on the game. But the former did a lot more than just equal his Filipino counterpart’s output.
Using heady play, CP3-like handles and, in spite of having only two assists, orchestrating his team’s offense like a maestro, China’s Number 6 made a strong statement that says he’s already on Jayson’s heels in terms of being recognized as the best point guard in Asia. With 19 points in the gold medal game and an exhibition of a champion’s poise, 21 year-old Ailun made his grand arrival in the international basketball scene.
And on the silver medalists' side of things...
WE WERE RIGHT THERE
We had a strong start as Castro made the right plays in the opening moments of the game and Gabe Norwood was nailing his Js. And although our opponents vanquished our early lead, we kept on hustling and hustling to remain in the game amid Team China’s onslaught in the paint. And when the monolithic Chinese started drilling those painful threes, our boys kept on pressing till we had a shot at closing the gap to six in the last four minutes of the third stanza.
Unfortunately, our players, who at times looked like like grade schoolers playing a game of pabitin against high schoolers, gassed out from battling the huge Chinese frontcourt. Going into the final 12 minutes, with a 10-point deficit to overcome, the Gilas tank was nearly empty. But still, our guys kept on fighting to halt the ballooning Chinese lead that went up to as much as 18. In the end, Coach Tab and his charges lost the game by nine points.
WHAT WENT WRONG?
Aside from the obvious height disadvantage, Gilas was taken out of their trademark physical game as the referees chose to blow the whistle to the slightest of contacts. The Philippines’ only chance to prevail over the immense size of the Chinese ballers was to play rugged D but it became impossible for our boys to do just that.
It was frustrating to see Gilas shoot brick after brick for a lowly 35.4-percent FG clip. Compound this with the questionable fouls called on our bigs and the non-calls on the eye pokes to Gabe and Andray, the latter prompting Coach Baldwin to take a T, the odds we needed to defy became too big to overcome.
Gilas’ 2015 FIBA Asia campaign didn’t end fruitless though...
AND STILL, THE BEST PG IN ASIA
With a string of memorable performances in Changsha, including a 26-point explosion against mighty Iran, Castro proved that he's still this continent’s Number One point guard. The former PCU Dolphin was named as the FIBA Asia Championship's all-tournament floor general for the second straight time. Joining him in the "all-star five" were Iran’s Nikkhah Bahrami, China’s Yi, Ailun, and Qi.
WE GET ANOTHER CRACK AT RIO
All is not lost for Gilas, though. With a silver medal on hand, Gilas has also qualified to the 2016 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament. In the competition, three wildcard slots for the Rio Games will be awarded, and with more experience under the team’s belt, and if Jordan Clarkson can finally suit up for us, we’ve got a shot at making the cut. It won't be easy, of course, as we'll be facing off against teams that are arguably stronger than China. Still, we'll take this chance.
We'd like to end by congratulating Gilas Pilipinas, from Coach Tab to the lead guys, Jayson and Andray, all the way to the role players JC Intal and Asi Taulava.
You all made us proud!
Till the next battle!
We’ll keep on cheering for you!
No amount of dubious calls will ever change that.