The Journey Continues
It is on to the next round for Gilas Pilipinas, this after another dominant outing against a hapless Kuwaiti side that bowed out of contention with three lopsided losses.
Displaying firepower extraordinaire once more, Team Pilipinas walloped Kuwait 110–64 in a game that was, like the Hong Kong outing, over by halftime.
Spitfire guard Terrence Romeo led the way in this one, scattering a team-high 19 points on an efficient 6 of 10 clip from the field, including a lay-in that came off a dazzling, lightning-quick crossover on the break. Romeo’s backcourt mate, Jayson Castro, was The Blur yet again, blitzing Kuwait for 16 markers on a variety of drives and jumpers. Gilas’s Energizer Bunny, Calvin Abueva, also got into the action early and often, powering his way to 10 points and grabbing 8 rebounds in 14 minutes of all-out effort and nonstop hustle.
Yes, Gilas was dominant yet again, but this dominance is deceiving.
Gilas did not particularly play well in this game. It was, in many ways, a step back for the team. Even as Castro and company shredded the Kuwaitis to the tune of 26 unanswered points bridging the first and second quarters, there was never a sense that Gilas was locked in and in complete control. The difference in talent was simply so vast and so apparent that the Kuwaitis could not take advantage of Gilas’s sometimes sloppy, sometimes erratic play.
In other words, this performance won’t be good enough to beat the tournament’s elite. The sad truth is there are problems that need to be addressed soon, and by soon, that means as early as Sunday, when round 2 action begins.
Defense, for one, remains a problem. Gilas still gave up way too many open shots, especially from downtown. Several times, the rotations were a tad slow. When the team went to the zone (and they used it extensively in this game), the rotations were routinely mixed up, with the players not knowing when to help, who to cover, or where to go. Other times, the players closed out on shooters half-heartedly, seemingly daring the Kuwaitis to just let it fly.
Another problem is naturalized center Andray Blatche, who looks nothing like the double-double machine that he was in last year’s FIBA World Cup. Three games in and Blatche has clearly not found his groove. He has settled for jumpers way too many times, and even when he has tried to take it strong to the paint, he has looked slow and unathletic. Against inferior opposition, the former Brooklyn Net has looked very ordinary, and in this game, he looked downright pedestrian. If Blatche is to get his game going, he will have to do so against better opposition in the coming games.
Turnovers are also causes for concern. In this game, Gilas turned it over 15 times, many of which were unforced, committed due mainly to carelessness and nothing else. Against inferior opposition, 15 turnovers won’t matter much; against elite competition, however, it is a different story. Quite simply, Team Pilipinas needs to take better care of the ball if they want to beat the best teams in Asia.
Speaking of the best teams in Asia, Gilas Pilipinas will get a crack at two of them—Japan on Sunday and Iran on Monday—in round 2. Japan has been perennially solid throughout the years, while Iran needs no further introduction.
On the interim, Gilas Pilipinas will have a one-day break, a chance to go back to the proverbial drawing board and work on every thing that needs to be fixed and improved. Such a task seems rather Herculean, but then again, nothing has ever come easy for this version of Gilas.
Nevertheless, there are reasons to be optimistic, too. Jayson Castro, for one, is playing well again. Calvin Abueva, meanwhile, has proven to be a game changer, a change-of-pace bundle of energy that galvanizes the team with his intense, devil-may-care attitude. Even more, Terrence Romeo seems to be finding his groove as a playmaker, even as Dondon Hontiveros has begun finding his range and rhythm.
The Road to Rio has gotten tougher. Now, it’s time for Gilas Pilipinas to get better.
Yes, it’s on to the next round.
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/.