It's no secret that a basketball team as small as ours needs to connect well from the outside to slay a bigger opponent. On Friday afternoon, Smart Gilas Pilipinas failed to do just that, bowing to a young but tall Chinese team, 68-71, in their debut game in the 4th FIBA Asia Cup in Tokyo, Japan.
Unlike in their several wins in the Jones Cup last month, the Filipinos were far from impressive with their sniping against a Chinese squad that is composed of mostly players from the Under-20 National Team. The Nationals shot an atrocious five out of 35 from beyond the arc. This enabled the Chinese to score on several fast break plays especially in the pay-off period.
Designated gunners Jeff Chan and Gary David both shot 1-out-of-7 from the arc, while Larry Fonacier converted just two of his seven attempts. Jones Cup MVP LA Tenorio was himself having an off night, burying just one triple out of five tries. Even Ranidel De Ocampo, who top-scored for Gilas with 11 markers, was 0-out-of-5 from the long distance. Naturalized import Marcus Douthit had 10 points.
Diminutive guard Ailun Go led China with 18 markers including 2 of 3 from rainbow territory. China fared slightly better than the Philippines from three-point range, converting six out of 24 attempts.
But it was in the shaded area that China lorded it over Gilas. The Asian champions outrebounded the Philippines, 58-31, including 19 offensive boards. The Filipinos only collected five offensive rebounds the entire game. Gilas also failed to take advantage of China's 22 turnovers.
In the first half, the Chinese seized control early, and led by as many as 11 points. Douthit and back-up center Sonny Thoss were saddled by early foul trouble, prompting coach Chot Reyes to gamble with a zone defense. The gamble paid off as the Chinese, for most of the second half, seemed clueless on how to counter the zone. Guo was the only bright spot against the Filipinos' scrambling defense.
With this defensive breakthrough, the Philippines took control of the fourth quarter, ignited by a triple from David. Gilas even built an eight-point advantage, at 64-56, with over six minutes left. But China eventually found a solution against the zone and staged an 11-0 run, en route to the victory.
It's now crystal clear that Gilas' shooting performance will be the barometer for a likely outcome. In fairness to this batch, such was also the case in the original Gilas cast under Serbian tactician Rajko Toroman. In Gilas I, a win against bigger rivals depended on the accurate shooting of Jvee Casio, Marcio Lassiter and Chris Tiu. Even a stellar game from Douthit did not ensure a W for the Philippines unless complimented by a steady outside shooting.
But Gilas II is certainly not wanting in shooters. The PBA's best snipers are in the roster. However, these veteran gunners are not used to being defended by much taller and quicker opponents, like the Chinese. China's band of boys, 21 years old and below, were aggressive in closing out on our shooters, having been aware of Gilas' triumph in Taipei last month. Even the Chinese guards stood over 6'3", making it extremely difficult for David, Chan, Fonacier and Tenorio to get open looks.
Still another weakness in Tokyo is the lack of a back-up point guard. Since Sol Mercado was dropped from the roster as a result of eligibility problems, Tenorio became the lone pure point guard in the FIBA Asia Cup. Sure Gabe Norwood can play the spot, or even Matt Granuelas. But the team needs a Tenorio or Mercado on the floor, especially in a dribble drive set up. Granuelas, the only non-PBA player in the squad, did not see action against China.
But perhaps the biggest problem for Gilas II is the lack of ceiling, especially at the center spot. Thoss and Enrico Villanueva are just not big enough at center against teams like China and Iran. Douthit is a great offensive player but is not strong enough to bang bodies with the seven-footers of Asia. The team badly needs a shot in the arm at the center position. While the efforts and dedication of Thoss and Villanueva are undeniably commendable, the team might need an Asi Taulava or Greg Slaughter more.
The game against China told this story. Next for the Nationals is another tough customer in Lebanon, later today. The spectacular Fadi El Khatib is back with the Cedars National Team that blew out Macau yesterday, 120-51.
Hopefully, Gilas' guns come out blazing in tonight's encounter.
Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.