Before their Aug. 29 match at Smart-Araneta Coliseum versus the Azzurri of Italy, Gilas Pilipinas had the daunting task of drawing up a game plan that would not only beat the Italians but also be ahead by at least 12 points.
It looked achievable considering that the Azzurri were awful at the 3-point arc in their first two matches against Angola and the Dominican Republic. Gilas Pilipinas and their coach Chot Reyes were hopeful that they would be able to advance to the second round of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
But against a European powerhouse ranked No. 10 and with a 12-0 record against Asian teams in the World Cup, that game plan fell to pieces even before the first half of last night’s game ended. The Italians suddenly regained their 3-point shooting touch as well as their passing prowess.
With the 90-83 win, Italy joins the Dominican Republic as Group A leaders moving on to the Round of 16. The Philippines, on the other hand, has become the first host team since Colombia in 1982 to lose their first three games in the tournament.
Not yet over
But it is not yet over for Gilas Pilipinas as they still have to play two more games in the classification stage. The Philippines as well as Angola will face one of the two losing teams from Group B — either Asian powerhouse China or South Sudan (which trounced China in their group stage match, 89-69, on Aug. 28).
Gilas’ succeeding match will establish their final rank–a spot from 17th to 32nd–in the 19th edition of the quadrennial tournament. At the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup held in China, Gilas failed to notch a single win, ending up last among the 32 participating nations.
If it’s any consolation for Gilas, no Asian team made it to the Round of 16. Even Japan, the only team from Asia that won a game in the Group stage (upsetting Finland on Aug. 27), also slid into the classification round after yielding to Australia in last night’s game in Okinawa. This means that the Philippines, along with Japan, China, Jordan, Iran and Lebanon, still has a chance of getting an automatic qualification to the 2024 Paris Olympics — a reward for the best-placed Asian team at the end of the three-week-long tournament.
Again, Jordan Clarkson carried the offensive load for Gilas with 23 points, 7 rebounds, and 6 assists. While the Utah Jazz superstar’s efforts for the team went down the drain, he has established a record: the first player in the FIBA Basketball World Cup to score more than 20 points and more than 5 assists in each of the first three games.
Clarkson was joined last night by Dwight Ramos as the only Gilas in double figures with 14 points, 3 assists, and 2 steals. The two also had solid support from Ariel John “AJ” Edu (8 points, 8 rebounds and 2 steals) and Rhenz Abando (8 points and 2 rebounds).
Gilas Pilipinas also improved on their 3-point shooting, making 10 of 29, or a 34.5% accuracy rate, thanks to players Roger Pogoy (3 of 6), Kiefer Ravena (2 of 3), and Ramos (2 of 8). With the Dominican Republic, the Philippines was 6 of 18 (33.3%) from the 3-point area, and 4 of 22 (18.2%) against Angola.
But the Italians were much more accurate in their match against the Filipinos as they converted 17 of 41 long-range shots. The Italians were also efficient at the free throw line making 15 of 17, or 88.2%; the Filipinos only made 13 of 18 free throws, or 72.2%.
Simone Fontecchio, Clarkson’s teammate at Utah Jazz in the US National Basketball Association, led the Azzurri with 18 points and 6 rebounds. He got support from Marco Spissu who had 13 points, 9 assists, and 2 steals. Giampalo Ricci proved to be the difference, delivering 14 points—4 from behind the arc–that doused Gilas’ hope of making a comeback in the fourth quarter.
Whatever Gilas Pilipinas’ ranking in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup, Philippine basketball authorities should have realized by now that, for the 2027 edition of the tournament, the country needs a lineup that includes outside shooters as efficient as Philippine Basketball Association legend Allan Caidic. He still holds the record for the most 3-point field goals made and attempted in a game (17 of 27), as well as the most consecutive 3-point field goals made in a game (8).
While size is still a crucial factor in matchups – as June Mar Fajardo and AJ Edu (both 6’10”) provided — the 3-point line gives smaller teams like Gilas the great equalizer.
The games demonstrated how opposing teams’ defense can easily collapse on Gilas Pilipinas’ ball handlers. As skilled a player as Clarkson is, he eventually became prone to turnovers. Had Gilas Pilipinas included perimeter shooters as accurate as Caidic, the Philippines could easily have negated the advantage of teams with tall and burly lineups.
The mere presence of 3-point shooters opens lanes for penetration and even forces defenders into making difficult choices between staying glued to their assignments and helping on the ball. And this can hold the key for Gilas Pilipinas’ continuing attempts to reclaim their glory in international tournaments.