(UPDATED) Gilas Pilipinas weathered a big fourth-quarter comeback by the visiting Shanghai Sharks to pull off an 80-72 win at the start of the Philippines-China Basketball Friendship Games at the All of Asia Arena in Pasay.
The Nationals were comfortably ahead, 71-52, entering the final 12 minutes thanks to the hot shooting of Gary David, who buried four triples in the third quarter, before cadet pool member Garvo Lanete put buried his own triple near the end of the third to give Gilas that big 19-point bulge.
But with Gilas coach Chot Reyes opting to rest his PBA players at the start of the fourth in favor of the cadet pool members, the Sharks methodically climbed their way back into the contest, forcing the Nationals into a maze of errors with an effective full-court press. Gilas was held scoreless for over four minutes before RR Garcia snapped the scoring drought with a jumper with 5:38 left, ending a 10-0 Sharks run.
Reyes quickly sent Jeff Chan, Marcus Douthit, and Gary David back onto the court to close out the game, but the Sharks, behind shifty point guard Meng Lingyuan and seven-foot center Zhang Zao Zhu, continued to chip away at the deficit.
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A turnaround jumper by Zhang with 1:39 to go made it 77-72, and Shanghai had another chance to cut further into the lead after Gabe Norwood turned the ball over with a bad pass to Chan. But the Sharks were unable to get any closer, and Aguilar practically sealed the win with a baseline drive that made it 79-72 with just a little over a minute left.
Despite a poor fourth quarter that saw Gilas managing only nine points, Reyes was pleased with their overall effort.
“More than anything, the (Gilas) program was on full display tonight,” he said. “For the Gilas 1 (PBA pool) to play with the cadets almost seamlessly, these guys practiced for only three days and then nagkita-kita na lang kami.”
Reyes was also happy with the performance of his three big men, namely June Mar Fajardo, Japeth Aguilar and Greg Slaughter, against a top Asian club.
“When they played together they responded very well,” he said of the three. “I’m pleased the three of them acquitted themselves very well against top Asian competition."
Aguilar had 11 points, four rebounds and two blocks in 22 minutes and performed the highlight move of the night with a vicious slam against the taller Zhang. Fajardo also had 11 points and 4 boards in 13 foul-plagued minutes, while Slaughter, who saw action for only 11 minutes, had two points and one rebound.
The three absorbed their share of blocked shots against the towering Zhang, but Reyes said this would help them adjust to Asian play in the long run. "They need to get used to getting their shots blocked. Sa PBA, hindi sila sanay na natatapal."
Reyes tapped members of the cadet pool - namely Garcia, Lanete, Kevin Alas, Ronald Pascual and Matt Ganuelas - to pinch-hit for pool members whose teams are playing in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals.
The Sharks, meanwhile, were without ace playmaker Liu Wei, who was reportedly suffering from diarrhea. They were led by Zhang, who had 17 points and 12 rebounds and five blocks, and Meng, who chipped in 14 points. Swingman Wang Ligang had 11.
“Overall I think the Philippines is very well coached and played a very high level,” said Sharks coach Wang Qun through an interpreter. “Physically I think they’re stronger. However, I think conditioning-wise we were better, and that’s why we were able to catch up in the fourth period.”
Sharks president Yao Ming watched the game from behind his team’s bench and did not appear at the post-game press conference. The Sharks end their two-game series Tuesday night against a PBA selection coached by Franz Pumaren.
80 – David 14, Aguilar 11, Norwood 11, Fajardo 11, Lanete 10, Chan 9, Garcia 8, Slaughter 2, Ganuelas 2, Douthit 2, Pascual 0, Alas 0.
Quarterscores: 20-14, 43-30, 71-52, 80-72
SLIDESHOW OF THE GAME: