By Michael Angelo S. Murillo
THE Philippine men’s national basketball team’s bid in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers was dealt a major blow after it lost to Iran, 78-70, in their key Group F match on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Saw the wheels on its attack detach in the end, Gilas Pilipinas just could not recover when Iran seized the momentum in the final moments of the match to slump to its second straight defeat in the qualifiers.
The Gilas loss dropped it outside of the top three in their grouping with a 5-5 record, surrendering third place to Japan (6-3) which won over Kazakhstan earlier in the day.
Iran, meanwhile, remained at second at 7-3.
Gilas had a fiery start, led by Marcio Lassiter who was hitting his mark from beyond the arc.
The Philippines raced to a 15-10 advantage midway into the opening quarter.
But the visitors were undeterred though, shooting themselves back in the contest to just trail by a point, 20-19, after the first 10 minutes of the contest.
At the start of the second frame, the Philippines picked things up on both ends of the court.
It would outscore Iran, 6-1, to create a 26-20 separation with 7:47 left in the period.
The two teams went back-and-forth after but Gilas maintained control, up, 39-35, heading into the halftime break.
Iran began the third quarter with more aggressiveness on the lead of big man Meisam Mirzaei.
It would take the lead, 44-42, at the 6:20 mark.
Jayson Castro though would rack up five straight points in the next minute to give Gilas a three-point cushion, 47-44.
Iran kept the pressure on the Philippines only to find a host team ready to keep control of the match.
The count stood at 54-50 with Gilas still on top heading at the end of three quarters.
Gilas began the payoff quarter threatening to pull away.
The nationals sped to a 60-52 lead after three minutes.
But Iran stayed composed, going on an 8-0 blast in the next minute and a half to pull even at 60-all.
The Iranians continued to pour it on after, building a five-point lead, 67-62, with under five minutes left on the clock.
Sensing that the game was slipping from its hands, Gilas regrouped, led by Mr. Castro and June Mar Fajardo.
The Philippines overtook Iran, 68-67, off a triple from Mr. Castro with 2:57 left.
A made basket by Hamed Hosseinzadeh, meanwhile, with 1:59 to go gave Iran back the lead, 69-68.
Mr. Fajardo then scored for the Philippines to push Gilas, 70-69, at the 1:06 mark only to be answered back by Behnam Yakhchalidehkordi to hand the lead once again to Iran, 71-70, with 42 ticks remaining.
Gilas sued for time to set up a play but the three-point attempt by Troy Rosario failed to hit the mark that led to a breakaway layup for Mohammad Jamshidijafarabadi to make it 73-70 for Iran with 26 seconds left.
The Philippines was not able to recover from that after as the Iranians held on for the win.
Mr. Jamshidijafarabadi paced the winning side with 26 points followed by Mr. Yakhchalidehkordi with 21.
For the Philippines it was Mr. Castro who led with 19 while naturalized player Christian Standhardinger had 17 points.
“We are disappointed not only about the game but the whole window. In the end game I think the team showed its immaturity. We are not yet as cohesive a team as we wanted to be,” said Gilas coach Yeng Guiao as he gave his assessment of the match in the postgame press conference.
“Despite that, I think we have a good team. Our chances of making the World Cup may have become slimmer but I still think we can get the job done,” he added.
Next for Gilas is the sixth and final window of the qualifiers in February next year which are both away matches against Kazakhstan and Qatar.
As per tournament format, the top three teams in each of the two groupings advance to the the 2019 FIBA World Cup in China.