Gilas 3.0: Still Finding Its Way
A win is a win.
Gilas Pilipinas opened round 2 action on a winning note, overcoming a poor start, an injury to naturalized reinforcement Andray Blatche, and sloppy play all around, to eke out a 73-66 victory over a hard-fighting and decidedly more disciplined Japan five.
Blatche and Jayson Castro led the way in this one, the former bucking a sprained ankle to scatter 18 points, including a key three-point play in crunch time, and the latter chipping in with 12 points on a strong third quarter. “Pambansang Siko” Ranidel de Ocampo was his usual steady yet deadly self as he scored 13 big points, none bigger than a cold-blooded three-point dagger that broke a 64-64 deadlock with just a little over a minute left.
Yes, this game was tied in crunch time.
The ghosts of the Palestine game had returned for an encore
They couldn’t finish the job, all right, but they sent a chilling reminder to the Filipinos: Gilas Pilipinas isn’t ready just yet. The team remains vulnerable—very vulnerable.
Gilas 3.0 is vulnerable because it can’t seem to play good, honest, ferocious defense on a consistent possession-by-possession basis. Sometimes, the defense looks locked in, with the players moving on a string, each man crouched low, hands up and active, and getting to his spot at exactly the right time. Other times the defense is sloppy, the rotations all mixed up, the closeouts a full step slower and done with a tad less effort. Even worse, the Gilas guards and wings are routinely being beat off the dribble, effectively putting that defense in full crisis mode every so often.
Gilas 3.0 is vulnerable because Andray Blatche remains a shell of his World Cup best—slower, less athletic, and with seemingly itchier fingers. Now, he is injured. The team’s ace, the perceived difference-maker, is out of shape and injured, and that combination does not bode well for the tougher grind ahead. At his best, Blatche is the best big man in this tournament, better even than Iran’s Hamed Haddadi. In his current shape, though, Blatche is now likely the biggest question mark of the tournament.
Gilas 3.0 is vulnerable because the players keep abandoning the offense, opting instead to play hero ball. That tendency to go one-on-five was apparent throughout this game, from Blatche forcing the issue one too many times to Terrence Romeo taking matters into his own hands every time he got the ball to Calvin Abueva barging into the lane with seemingly no intention to pass at all. Even Jayson Castro honed in on the rim way too often, even as he keyed a strong third quarter with his daring drives. All in all, Gilas Pilipinas shot 24-for-62 from the field, and many of those bricks were forced shots off of one-on-one plays.
Gilas 3.0 is vulnerable because it remains a feast-or-famine team. In other words, the team is streaky but woefully inconsistent. When the shots are falling, Gilas can put points on the board in a hurry. But when the shots aren’t falling, Team Pilipinas suffers through long scoring droughts, as was the case in the end game against Palestine and in the first quarters against Kuwait and now Japan. Worse, Gilas hasn’t shown just yet the ability to manufacture points when the bricks keep piling up.
Yes, Gilas 3.0 is vulnerable.
That doesn’t mean that Filipino fans should stop believing. This team as mentioned time and again is a work in progress, and while it has not played its best, it doesn’t mean it can’t play better.
Team Pilipinas still has a pulse in this tournament. That almost mythical “puso” is still beating, and it will be tested later on by the mighty Iranians.
Nobody said the Road to Rio will be easy.
Gilas 3.0 knows that fully well already. Now, it’s time for the team to rise to the challenge.
Martin is a copy editor for the University Press of First Asia. He is an avid sports fan. He used to keep a sports blog at http://pinoysportsnet.blogspot.com/.