One Game, One Shot, One Chance
It was a scary sight for all basketball-crazy Pinoys.
Japanese ace Makoto Hiejema and big man Jojo Takeuchi were taking the fight to Team Pilipinas, the former blazing hot, breathing fire and shooting fireballs from the perimeter virtually at will; the latter, terrifyingly efficient, grabbing rebounds in bunches and stroking shots inside and out. Japan led 17–16 after one, and they padded that lead to 7 early in the second canto. The game was all even at the half, 39–39, and at the end of three, 54–54.
An upset was definitely brewing.
Then Dondon Hontiveros caught fire in the payoff period. The sweet-shooting Cebuano, much maligned for his poor play and even poorer shooting for most of the tournament, buried three triples in the fourth canto, with each three-point bomb separating Gilas and Japan ever so slowly. Hontiveros’s first three in the final quarter, at the 9-minute mark, gave Team Pilipinas a 57–54 lead. His second triple, at the 3:22 mark, put the team ahead, 72–62. His final trey, with 82 seconds remaining in the game, put the nationals up, 77–68.
In all, the man dubbed the “Cebuano Hotshot” finished with 18 points, each point much needed as Gilas 3.0 struggled for much of the game to manufacture points against the smart and sticky defense of the Japanese. Two of Hontiveros’s six triples, in fact, came at the second quarter, when points seemingly came in trickles for the nationals.
Like the Lebanon game before, this match was a struggle for the nationals, who had to rely once again on the game-long brilliance of Blatche and Castro and later, on the sudden and timely reemergence of Hontiveros. Team Pilpinas just could not get going on either end, bleeding for points on offense and routinely breaking down on defense. It seemed as if every time Gilas found a semblance of rhythm, they would either turn the ball over or get whistled for a foul. Sometimes, they would give up an offensive rebound or surrender a wide-open jumper.
Through it all, Gilas 3.0 found ways to win again.
Their reward? A finals date with the hosts. A gold-or-bust game with China.
Now, more than ever, Gilas 3.0 will have to find even more ways to win. They will have to dig even deeper, to play even better. They will have to play near-perfect basketball. Anything less than stellar won’t cut it, especially against this Chinese squad that looks downright awesome. The ease by which they beat Iran was particularly chilling, a show of force and laser-like focus from the hosts.
The odds, no doubt, are stacked against Team Pilipinas. They will have to overcome not only a tall, talented, and hungry Chinese squad, but also host of adjacent challenges as well. The crowd will be pro-Chinese, and they will be screaming for blood. They will boo and jeer and curse. They will be raucous and rowdy. The officiating will, for all intents and purposes, be pro-Chinese, too. Those 50-50 calls? Expect them to go to China. The physicality? It will likely be one-sided, in favor of China, of course.
The nationals will try to climb Mt. Everest on tired legs and battered bodies. The heart, though, is still beating and the spirit, willing.
One game, one shot, one chance.
Anything is possible.
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/.