The classification phase was supposed to be a cakewalk for Team Pilipinas, the calm before the proverbial storm. The thinking was Gilas 3.0 would breeze through this round, all while perfecting Coach Tab Baldwin’s swing offense and fine-tuning every weapon in the arsenal. The team, after all, was grouped with a trio of “lightweights”—Palestine, Hong Kong, and Kuwait.
No one expected the storm to come right at day one, though.
In a shocking reversal, Palestine pulled the rug from under Team Pilipinas, storming back at the tail end of the final canto to nip Gilas 3.0, 75-73. It was a game that the Palestinians had no business winning—on paper, at least. Yet they managed to hang around, time and again tugging on the coattails of Gilas, which had looked good early on in establishing a 27-12 lead in the first quarter. In the end, Team Palestine hung around long enough to unleash a fiery, giant-killing 13-2 windup that broke the collective hearts of Filipino basketball fans.
Let it be known now that there will be no cakewalk for Gilas 3.0.
Let it be known, too, that Team Pilipinas needs to get its act together soon—real soon.
Palestine exposed the Philippines in plain view, all for everyone to see. That second place finish in the recent Jones Cup was all smoke and mirrors, an illusion that the team was coming along just fine when in fact, it wasn’t.
To put it simply, Gilas 3.0 is a long ways to go before it can even challenge for the gold. This team, as the Palestinians showed, is woefully underprepared, both on offense and on defense. Offensively, plays broke down one too many times, often resulting in unsuccessful one-on-one forays. The ball did not swing crisply and continuously, just as the players did not move in perfect harmony. Defensively, break downs occurred early and often, from missed assignments to blown coverage to late closeouts.
To be fair, Gilas 3.0 is pretty much a new team, with only five holdovers from the well-prepared and highly successful Gilas 2.0. This iteration of Team Philippines had only two months to prepare, and even then, it was hampered by all sorts of bad luck, notably injuries and personal matters. Only recently has this team been able to really practice as one complete unit.
More disconcerting were the brain farts, and the Gilas players committed many of them on both ends. They made sloppy, errant passes. They took head-scratching, highly questionable shots. They committed useless, ticky-tack fouls. They gave up open jumpers, including two in the final minute that led to a pair wide-open straightaway threes.
Fortunately for Gilas, this loss is not the end. The Road to Rio is still open, still there for the taking. If ever there was a good time to lose, that time was now, in the classification phase, at the start of the tournament. But now the grind officially begins. There is no more room for error. Team Pilipinas needs to take care of business, and that means wins over Hong Kong today and Kuwait on Friday to advance to the next phase.
If this version of Gilas is to entertain any thought of winning it all in Changsa, lots of work still needs to be done, as this loss to Palestine showed. But if there is one thing Gilas 3.0 has proven, it is that they are willing to put in all the work needed to win the gold. These guys have worked hard enough already, and they will surely work even harder for flag and country, especially now that they have been given a cold-blooded reality check by a lightweight.
So yes, Gilas Pilipinas suffered a humbling loss, but all is not lost—not yet at least. This team will make adjustments. It will play better. These players are too good to not play better. They are too proud to not put up a gallant stand.
There will be plenty of second-guessing for now, for sure, but one thing is for certain: Gilas 3.0 still has a chance. That’s all the Filipinos can ever ask for.
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/.