If there is a time to test how a local crew can hold out against the basketball team of other countries, it was Window 5.
After losing to Iran and beating Qatar in September, 2018 during the suspension of majority of the Gilas members due to the now infamous brawl against Australia, the Philippines was holding out a 5-3 record at that time, good for third place in Group F.
They are one game ahead against then fourth placer Japan and owns the tie-breaker in case both teams finish with the same record.
They were up against a formidable Kazakhstan and powerhouse Iran, excellent teams that are no sure win guarantees even with Blatche, excellent situations to go all-Filipino.
Further, two losses wouldn’t eliminate Gilas outright. And it shouldn’t be that difficult to recover as the last two games are a rematch against lower seeds Qatar and Kazakhstan.
Just the perfect timing for the dry run.
The World stage is a different animal
Beating teams in the World Cup is not the same as beating teams during the Asia Qualifiers. And Guiao is right about the local crew’s tendency to over-rely on Blatche.
Gilas may get a victory here and there by simply giving the ball to Blatche and get out of the way during the Qualifiers but that will definitely not work in the World Cup.
Gilas needs the third, fourth and fifth options and the bench to perform well if they are to go further in this World Cup than they did in 2014 where they were eliminated in the first round, coming up with a lone victory against Senegal.
The exposure that the local crew got during the September and December 2018 windows, where Blatche did not participate, helps their cause. The experience to defend taller and talented opponents and trying to score against them without the naturalized import was a handy familiarization of situations that could come during the World Cup.
The Locals delivered when it mattered
Guiao’s gambit was put to test during its crucial game against Kazakhstan that would eventual result to a 93-75 demolition at the Republican Velodrome Saryarka in Astana, Kazakshtan last February 24, 2019.
Midway through the third, Blatche was forced to the bench as he collected his fourth foul when the count was at 60-51, 3:45 left in the third.
The local crew’s ability to not letting a game slip away while their best player was riding the pine was tested and they fully displayed they could do more than just letting the Philippines remain in safe waters in this win-or-go-home match.
After Alexandr Zhigulin scored a triple immediately after Blatche went out to cut the Gilas lead to just six, the Gilas veteran duo of Jayson Castro and June Mar Fajardo went berserk from the outside and the post, respectively, to led a 17-9 run in six minutes bridging the third and final quarters that finally broke the back of the Kazakhs.
Castro poured in eight points, including back-to-back triples, while Fajardo chipped in six points and five rebounds.
The locals pushed Philippines to their biggest lead as of that point of the game, a 14 point, 77-63, advantge during the absence of Blatche, who reentered the game with around 7 minutes left in the fourth with the Philippines enjoying that luxury.
At the games’s end, Castro tallied 13 points and 3 rebounds while Fajardo registered 11 points and 7 rebounds in just over 12 minutes.
Not to be forgotten are Mark Barroca, who main duty is to put the shackles on the opponents’ naturalized import, Anthony Clemmons, and Lee.
These two men were the only ones who had equal or higher net plus-minus for the night. Gilas was up 23 whenever Barroca was on the floor while they were up 18 whenever Lee is on the hardcourt.
To a lesser degree, the local crew also made a splash in the dying minutes of the first half to push Gilas to a five-point lead at the half.
After coming out of the first quarter with a solitary point lead, an exchange of runs ensued in the second with the Philippines dropping a 12-4 attack first only to absorb a 5-14 counter from the Kazakhs to trail, 38-40, with Blatche on the floor and 1:46 left before halftime.
That’s when the local crew of Mark Barroca and Paul Lee, who each sank a jumper, and Marcio Lasiter, who drilled in a triple, dropped a 7-0 blast to give the Philippines a 45-40 lead going to the break.
Becoming lethal from all angles
The experience that the locals got during Blatche’s absence will surely help improve their World Cup cause. The losses that they absorbed in the fourth and fifth windows will enhance their understanding on what it should take to win more games in the World Cup.
While Blatche is undeniably now a piece Gilas couldn’t dispense with, a potent local crew in the World Cup is appreciated just as much not only by Guiao but by all Filipino hoop fans.
By: ARMANDO M. BOLISLIS
Photo by fiba.basketball