LOS ANGELES — Gilas Pilipinas served notice to the rest of the competition that they belong in the world stage by making a tough battle out of their opening day matchup against 16th ranked Croatia at the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
The Philippines clawed back from 15-point deficit and went toe-to-toe with Croatia, before absorbing its first loss of the tournament in an overtime thriller, 81-78 in Seville, Spain.
Naturalized center and Brooklyn Nets stalwart Andray Blatche, whom some Filipino pundits expected to coast throughout his stint with Gilas, played big and led the Philippines with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and one steal. Blatche’s team-high +18 efficiency rating was telling of the big guy’s all-heart play for Team Philippines.
Tin Gamboa of GMA’s web-exclusive basketball podcast, For The Win, expressed her delight over Blatche’s gutsy play.
“Blatche has proven my initial ‘he’ll just coast’ theory wrong. I don’t think I’ve [ever] been happier to be wrong in my life. BOY HAS PUSO,” Gamboa (@suzy899) tweeted.
Blatche has proven my initial “he’ll just coast” theory wrong. I don’t think I’ve never been happier to be wrong in my life. BOY HAS PUSO.
— Tin Gamboa (@suzy899) August 30, 2014
Gutsy comeback Gilas was down big at the end of the first quarter, 23-9, but fought back into contention with a run late in the second to trim Croatia’s lead to just 6 points, 37-31. Gabe Norwood sparked a 9-2 run for the Philippines, 2:18 left in the second, with an offensive tip-in on a Jimmy Alapag miss from 3-point land. However, Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovic answered with a 2-point bucket on the other end. In the next possession, time Alapag made good on his attempt, draining a deep three to go with a foul from Roko Ukic. Alapag connected on the free throw to make it a 4-point play. Norwood again made a key offensive play, setting up Jeffrey Chan for booming triple to end the half. Playing catch-up for most of the game, Gilas tied the game at 64 all at the 3:16 mark of the fourth quarter, thanks to a Blatche triple. Croatia quickly regained the lead after two Luka Zoric connected on two free throws, courtesy of a Norwood foul. Gilas Pilipinas finally had a taste of the lead, 66-67, 2:49 left in the fourth, when Chan made all three free throws after drawing a foul from Dario Saric on a three point attempt. A quick Blatche layup further padded the Philippines’ lead to three, 69-66, 2:20 left in regulation. Croatia answered with a 5-point burst of their own, care of a Krunoslav Simon three pointer and a Saric jump shot, to grab the lead, 69-71, 1:33 left. Croatia seemed in control of the game after grabbing the team rebound off of an Alapag 3-point miss. But Chan regained the possession for Gilas after intercepting a bad pass from Simon. On the other end, Philippines’ Jayson Castro (listed as Jayson William) tied the game 71-all with a running jumper in the lane, 39 seconds left. Chan had a chance to win the game for the Philippines in regulation, but his last second heave was well defended by the Croatians. Thrilla in Sevilla According to ABS-CBN Sports’ TJ Manotoc (@tjmanotoc), a local Spanish reporter called the Philippines-Croatia game a “Thrilla in Sevilla,” a play on Muhammad Ali’s classic bout, called “Thrilla in Manila.”
a local Spanish reporter just christened this game the “Thrilla in Sevilla”. @coachot agreed but wished we were on winning end of course
— TJ Manotoc (@tjmanotoc) August 30, 2014
And rightly so. The extra period saw a gritty Gilas Pilipinas squad battle it out with Croatia in a back-and-forth affair.
Gilas took the driver’s seat 73-75, after two Blatche free throws.
But Croatia’s Ante Tomic answered with a quick layup to tie the game. Bogdanovic later on sank two free throws to grab the lead for Croatia, 77-75, 41 ticks left in overtime. Bogdanovic padded Croatia’s lead further with another pair of free throws, to make it 79-75, 19 seconds left on the clock.
Blatche inched the Philippines closer, 79-78, with a 3-point basket, but Damnjan Rudez’s last couple of free throws proved to be the proverbial nail in the coffin to cap the final score at 81-78.
Castro had a chance to tie the game with 7.6 seconds left in the game, but his Hail Mary shot failed to connect as time expired.
Almost all Filipinos scored in the game, except for the barely used Japeth Aguilar, who only saw 5 minutes of action.
Aside from Blatche, Chan also performed well and kept the Filipinos in the game with timely three-point buckets, shooting on a blistering 66.7 percent clip from beyond-the-arc, good for 17 points total.
Croatia was paced by Bogdanovic, who poured in 26 points, 3 rebounds, and went 6-for-6 on the foul line.
The loss, while heartbreaking, served as a notice to the other teams in FIBA that Gilas Pilipinas is not to be trifled with.
Former Ateneo standout and Gilas ex-captain Chris Tiu provided some insight.
“Some might not understand the magnitude of this game. Croatia is among the best in the world. Gilas proved they belong! #puso” Tiu (@chris_tiu) said on Twitter.
Some might not understand the magnitude of this game. Croatia is among the best in the world. Gilas proved they belong! #puso
— Chris Tiu (@chris_tiu) August 30, 2014
American journalist Rafe Bartholomew, who also penned Pacific Rims: Beermen Ballin’ in Flip-Flops and the Philppines’ Unlikely Love Affair with Basketball, said that Team Philippines’ first game was already indicative of what this tournament really means for the country. “I think Gilas already answered the big question: They’re going to make the Philippiens very proud, no matter what result,” Bartholomew (@Rafeboogs) tweeted.
I think Gilas already answered the big question: They’re going to make the Philippines very proud, no matter what result.
— Rafe Bartholomew (@Rafeboogs) August 30, 2014
Gilas Pilipinas will face Greece next, on August 31, Sunday, 11am PST.
The complete schedule for the FIBA World Cup can be found on http://www.fiba.com/basketballworldcup/2014/fullschedule.
CRO (81) – Bogdanovic 26, Simon 12, Saric 10, Tomic 8, Ukic 5, Markota 5, Rudez 4, Lafayette 4, Zoric 4, Babic 3
PHI (78) – Blatche 28, Chan 17, Pingris 10, Castro (William) 6, De Ocampo 5, Alapag 4, Tenorio 2, Norwood 2, Fajardo 2, Lee (Dalistan) 2, Aguilar 0.