The Philippine Star
Can Gilas upset Boomers?
The Philippines and Australia dispute top spot in Group B of the FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifiers for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in a showdown at the Philippine Arena tomorrow night with Gilas bracing for the Boomers’ bounceback from a one-point upset loss to Japan on the road last Friday.
Gilas and the Boomers are tied for first place with identical 4-1 marks. Regardless of the outcome of their battle, both teams are assured of advancing to the second round of eliminations, three more home-and away windows on Sept. 13-16, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and Feb. 21-24 next year. The top three placers in Group B move on to join the top three placers in Group D in the next three windows. The teams in Group D are, in order of their current standings, Iran (4-1), Kazakhstan (3-2), Iraq (2-3) and Qatar (1-4).
The Philippines looked devastating in crushing Taiwan, 93-71, to raise its record to 4-1 at the Heping Gym in Taipei last Friday. Andray Blatche atoned for a disappointing performance in Gilas’ 90-83 win over Chinese-Taipei at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in the first window last Nov. 27. Blatche apologized to his teammates in the dugout after the contest where the Philippines came from 14 down to prevail. He finished with six points on 2-of-9 from the field, 14 rebounds, three assists, six turnovers and five blocked shots. Coach Chot Reyes, however, said there was no need to apologize because with Gilas, everyone has each other’s back. Besides, Blatche’s rebounding and interior defense made the difference down the stretch. But Taipei’s naturalized player Quincy Davis won their scoring match-up as he hit 20 points on 8-of 12 field goals.
In the rematch, Blatche humbled Davis with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and two blocks in 33:40 minutes. Davis had 17 points, seven rebounds and zero assist in 37:42 minutes. Davis tried every trick in the book to rattle Blatche, including a flop inside the box and an elbow to the face. Blatche kept his cool and played within Reyes’ system to deliver a stirring performance. Blatche didn’t dominate like he did at the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Spain because now, Gilas plays more like a cohesive unit.
Gilas’ defense was the key to victory as the Philippines limited Taipei to 43 percent shooting from the field and forced 22 turnovers. Gilas shot 55 percent and had only 12 miscues. The bench delivered 51 points as the second and third units gave Gilas a huge boost in continuity. Taipei knocked down 12-of-32 triples compared to Gilas’ 8-of-21 but when it came to winning time, the outside touch was gone. Gilas switched, trapped and squeezed Taipei’s outside shooters and forced the host team to bring the ball closer to the hoop where Blatche and June Mar Fajardo waited in ambush. Gilas dominated the inside points, 50-20 and turnover points, 28-6. Gabe Norwood, as usual, played a major role in anchoring the defense at the point and the wings.
Against Australia, Gilas has to play even better than last Friday to win. The Boomers are No. 1 among 16 teams in the FIBA Asia/Pacific qualifiers in rebounding and offensive rebounding. They’re No. 2 in assists and hitting 37.3 percent from beyond the arc compared to the Philippines’ 31.3 percent. For Gilas to pull an upset, the Philippines must limit Australia’s second chance opportunities, disrupt the flow of the Boomers’ offense by trapping and delaying the advance of the ball to the halfcourt, congest the lane to force 7-1 Thon Maker and the other bigs to play away from the post, influence Matthew Dellavedova to go one-on-one instead of facilitate and finally, run like the wind.
Australia averages 6-6 in height and 28 years old with only Daniel Kickert, 35, and Kevin Lisch, 32, at least 30. Gilas averages 6-3 and 29 with six players at least 30. The Boomers boast of two NBA players, Maker and Dellavedova while the Philippines has one in Blatche. Australia lists two naturalized players, Maker and Lisch, compared to the Philippines’ lone ranger in Blatche. The Boomers were shocked by Japan and didn’t seem ready for new naturalized import Nick Fazekas and Benin-Japanese player Rui Hachimura of Gonzaga University. Fazekas, a former PBA import, and Hachimura combined for 49 points in their FIBA Asia/Pacific debut. Still, the Aussies lost by only a point, 79-78.