Thanks to our Gilas Pilipinas brothers' gritty 82-70 win over a stubborn Lebanese squad in the quarterfinal round of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship, the country is just two victories away from punching a ticket into the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Understandably, the outcome has put a smile on our faces, though we were as tense as a dude with LBM who’s stuck in EDSA during the game itself. With cold shooting hampering almost all Gilas members majority of the game, Lebanon was able to hang with our nationals till its last two minutes. Just in the nick of time, Gilas' dreaded defense, Jayson Castro and Andray Blatche were able to save the day.
Here we break down the deciding factors of last night's win:
SUPERMAN CASTRO AKA MAAASAHAN PLAYER OF THE GAME
With his teammates shooting from outside like Dwight Howard shooting freebies from the get-go, ironically, The Blur was forced to wear the red cape to bail Team Philippines out from a slow start. Jayson launched an inside-outside offensive to tally 12 points and put his squad up by four at the end of the first period. In the third canto, Asia's hands-down best point guard went back to work, fending off a spirited Lebanon rally by scoring 10 of his game-high 25 markers. Jayson's prolific point-production, which included a crucial three-pointer in the 4th, was instrumental in taking Gilas out of its scoring woes and lifting the team to a sweet W.
Unfortunately for Lebanon, 'Dray played his best basketball of the tournament in the quarterfinals. The NBA vet imposed his will against the Lebanese bigs, finishing with 24 points, 17 big boards and 2 swats. When Blatche decided he wanted to score, the result was either a bucket or a trip to the foul line, where he shot 7 out of 9. The naturalized Filipino big man was a force to reckon with, not even twin Lebanese pivots Mohamad Ali Haidar and Bassel Bawji could contend to. Andray playing Robin to Castro’s Batman or vice versa, ultimately doomed the chances of a Lebanon win.
Before the quarters, Lebanon's naturalized player, Jasmon Jovan Youngblood, was averaging 19 points a game. But against Gabe Norwood’s sticky D, Youngblood was limited to 12 markers. Mr. President checking his defensive assignment practically rendered Youngblood ineffective. He may only have had one triple and a dunk, but silencing an offensive weapon like Youngblood was most vital to Gilas advancing to the semis.
Now, back on that dunk.
SCORING PING (?)
As we waited and waited for Ranidel de Ocampo and Dondon Hontiveros to get hot from behind the arc (which by the way, never happened), an unlikely source of offense showed up in the final quarter. As Blatche and Castro were carrying the scoring load, we remember telling ourselves, "If only there was another guy who could catch fire, Gilas can very well run away with the victory." Who knew that the guy we're talking about would be Marc Pingris? The hardworking forward somehow started sinking his patented one-handers during the 4th quarter. Ping not only finished with an efficient eight points (on 4 of 5 shooting), but more importantly, gave Gilas the separation it needed from the pesky Lebanon contingent.
Now, we're in the semifinals, facing Japan. Although we'll not be facing Iran, Korea or China, our boys can't get complacent on their next opponent. Here are just some of the important considerations Gilas needs to take note of before this quite familiar matchup:
ALTHOUGH NOT IRAN, KOREA OR CHINA, JAPAN IS STILL A TOUGHIE
In our second round meeting with the Japs, we barely got by. It was only at the last minute that we were able to gut out a 73-66 win—and we needed a hobbling Blatche, who tweaked his ankle earlier in the game, and his crunch-time heroics.
JAPAN = SIZE
Their best player is 6'9" power forward Joji Takeuchi, who boasts a decent jump shot and a formidable inside presence on both ends of the floor. Japan also has skilled 6'3" point guard Makoto Hiejima; neglecting him on offense is a bad idea.
BUT WAIT, THERE'S MORE
Yuta Tabuse is a Class A point guard with an NBA stint on his resumé. If the diminutive PG gets into a rhythm, Yuta can run Team Japan like a well-oiled Tora-Tora plane. Playing him physically—meaning put Calvin Abueva on him—should be a good strategy.
Takatoshi Furukawa is likely his team's best three-point shooter, nailing 50% of his attempts from beyond the arc in the tournament. Gilas should keep an eye on him and his defender a hand on his face when he's on the floor.
NO RUNNING IN THE HALLS
Japan is a highly dangerous team on the open court. They got great size and good speed, a recipe for unstoppable fastbreak points. Gilas must keep the TOs in check, and get their transition defense in top form, especially after a long rebound by Japan.
Gilas 3.0 has beaten Japan before in this tourney and that’s a big plus for us. With an able coach and passionate players on our side, we should be okay. That said, we’ll be cheering on brothers today harder than ever.