Gilas takes a step back with Iran loss
MANILA, Philippines – There was no reason for Gilas Pilipinas to lose to Iran on Thursday afternoon, September 25.
Gilas was up by seven, 60-53, late in the fourth quarter. Iran’s best player, Hamed Haddadi, was absolutely exhausted. During every deadball in the final period, he was crouching to his knees and searching for any source of breath with each of his gulp for air as he burned out from the Philippines’ stingy defense.
The crowd in Incheon was pro-Gilas. For moments, it felt like the Philippines was playing in Manila with all the support they received from overseas Filipinos – most of whom probably skipped work to watch a Philippine victory.
Every time they would make a shot, the boisterous crowd would cheer in delight. Every time Iran gathered momentum, they would do everything they could to jeer Haddadi and company and quell their rhythm.
Everything seemed to point to a defeat for Iran. It felt like Gilas would finally snap their three-game losing streak to the biggest rivals they have in Asia; the same team that’s keeping them at bay from taking the crown as the continent’s best basketball team.
But Iran’s experience paved the way, as they finished the game on an improbable 15-3 run that was helped by Gilas’ mental lapses. When the final buzzer rang, the score read 68-63 for the defending FIBA Asia champions. If this was 2013, it could be chalked up to a moral victory for the Philippines. But after what they accomplished in the 2014 FIBA World Cup, this was just an unacceptable loss.
Over and over again, June Mar Fajardo made head-shaking mistakes in crunch time. He missed so many layups and he committed an unnecessary offensive foul on the break that should have resulted to an easy two points for Philippines. Marcus Douthit (10 points, 10 rebounds, 4 blocks) had four fouls, which was why Gilas head coach Chot Reyes kept him on the bench for most of the fourth.
Keeping Fajardo in play allowed the Iranians to come back and snatch the win. The PBA MVP is going to be an international beast one day with more training, but that day isn’t today, and Haddadi and company took advantage of that. Fajardo finished with just two points, while grabbing 4 rebounds and turning the ball over 5 times.
Despite leading Gilas with 11 points, Paul Lee was inconsistent. His explosiveness and aggressiveness on offense tired Mehdi Kamrani, which isn’t an advantage LA Tenorio and Jimmy Alapag have. But it was that same aggression that resulted in Lee taking two ill-advised contested jumpers down the stretch that played right into the hands of the more experienced Iranians. There was no quality ball movement or off-ball motion. There was just a pick, followed by a long jumper, followed by the “clank.”
On the other end, Iran showed why they are still the best Asia has to offer, and why FIBA was justified in putting them ahead of the Philippines in their rankings – at least for the moment. Kamrani was slicing through the defense of Gilas, finding open shooters at the corner, at the wing, and at the top of the key. He knew where to get his big man in the ball – a talent Gilas still needs to learn – resulting to easy shots for the tired but motivated Haddadi. And when the big would miss, there were two or three guys already attacking the offensive boards over and over again. In total, the Iranians had 19 offensive rebounds compared to 10 for Gilas.
Height certainly matters when it comes to grabbing boards, but will and fortitude play a bigger role, and frankly speaking, Iran just wanted to win more down the stretch than Gilas did, even if the latter was more talented.
Gilas failed to take advantage of Iran's poor shooting day (21/61 for 34% including 4/19 3-pointers) by shooting nearly as woeful (21/58 for 36% with 7/20 3-pointers). They did improve on their 20-turnover performance against India, committing just 13 for a -2 edge over Iran.
Would the Philippines have won had Andray Blatche played? Definitely. He’s a world better than Haddadi, who was ready to drop as he had to deal with Douthit; what else the NBA player that averaged 10 ppg for the Brooklyn Nets last season and was one of the best performers in the World Cup with a double-double average?
But Blatche’s absence is no excuse. Philippines had that game in the bag, even if they trailed by 12 after the first quarter. They clawed and fought their way back, even limiting Asia’s best team to just seven markers in the second period. In the third period, they finally took the lead and they pushed their opponents’ best players to the limit. In the fourth quarter, they had the game in the bag, and all they needed to do was close out. But they didn’t, and the team shouldn’t be satisfied with a moral victory, because there’s nothing about the game that should give them reason to be happy about.
Thanks to India’s underwhelming 0-2 performance in Group E, Gilas will still advance to the next round. But the road doesn’t get any easier.
This season’s Kazakhstan is better than the team the Philippines destroyed by 30 points in last year’s FIBA-Asia Championship, while a re-tooled Japan and always-deadly Korea could be potential adversaries for Gilas in Group H. And assuming Coach Chot and company advance, a semi-finals duel with either Iran or China stands in their way of the gold medal match.
Gilas wanted worldwide recognition. With their hard work, sacrifice, and puso (heart), they attained it as they fought tooth and nail with the best the world has to offer during the 2014 FIBA World Cup.
Now Gilas looks to conquer Asia, and the expectations are heightened. Coming close to beating Iran may have been acceptable last year, but that isn’t case anymore. Whether it’s the Iranians, the Chinese, or the Koreans, the Philippines should enter each matchup presuming they are the better team, and then they should go out and play like it.
Against Iran on Thursday, they did not. - Rappler.com