Gilas Pilipinas proved its worth on the global basketball stage yet again, but down the stretch, France proved its own mettle by reminding the capacity crowd at the SM Mall of Asia arena exactly why it’s the fifth-ranked team in the world.
The Frenchmen escaped with a 93-84 victory in the opening day of the 2016 FIBA Men’s Basketball Olympic Qualifying Tournament, effectively booking a seat in the semi-final round of the quick-strike tourney. It didn’t come easy, or as easy as France expected, but the final result is the only thing that mattered.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for Gilas, who started the game like their jerseys were on fire. It was breathless to watch as Andray Blatche threw one three after another to help Gilas build a 30-22 lead after one period.
But as is the case in international tournaments, the game eventually slowed down, playing right into the hands of Tony Parker, who brought France back in the game with some timely threes of his own.
To Gilas’ credit, they kept the game close in the first half, thanks in large part to timely contributions from Blatche and Jayson Castro. But things took a turn in the third quarter when France blew open the game, thanks in large part to turnovers, a debilitating dry spell for the Filipinos, and some timely shooting from Nando De Colo, who finished with a game-high 27 points. The Frenchmen eventually brought the lead up to as high as 13 points on a breakaway dunk by Kim Tillie that made it, 69-56, with 3:25 left in the period.
From there, it was an uphill climb for Gilas and while it was able to whittle the lead back down to four, 85-81, on a Gabe Norwood layup with 3:09 left in the fourth, France held its ground, closing the game on 9-3 run that eventually led to the final score.
Gilas can draw comfort knowing that it only lost by nine points.
That may not seem like something worthy of a positive result, but a quirk in international basketball tournaments puts a premium on point differential, something Gilas will have on its mind when it takes the floor against New Zealand tonight. It’s not just about trying to beat New Zealand anymore, it’s about beating New Zealand on a good lead to keep its point differential on the plus-side. That’s going to matter if New Zealand somehow beats France in their own game tomorrow.
All’s not lost for Gilas, despite the defeat to France. If anything, the result of the game once again validates how far the team has come in the last three years. But at some point, that door that separates Gilas from the world’s elite needs to be knocked down. It’s one thing to keep finding slivers of hope in defeat, it’s another thing entirely to turn that hope into reality. Gilas Pilipinas gets another crack at doing that against New Zealand, and judging by the way it performed against the fifth-ranked team in the world, let’s all hope that it takes to the floor with a sense of renewed purpose of what their true objectives are.
Photography KC Cruz