Gilas Pilipinas finished its first window assignments in the Asian Qualifiers for the FIBA World Cup 2019 with a 2-0 record, allowing it to secure a solid place in the top half of the standings in its grouping in the tournament.
While it remained unblemished, there is no denying though that the Philippine national men’s basketball team is still not in the collective form it wants to be in for the tournament considering how it was made to labor by both Japan and Chinese Taipei in its first two games in the qualifiers.
The Chot Reyes-coached team defeated Japan in its home turf last Friday, 77-71, and then got the better of Chinese Taipei here at home on Monday, 90-83, but not after having made to sweat than what was expected, no thanks to the team seemingly still finding its groove on various levels.
Even Reyes himself acknowledged that they were not at their best in the two games and relieved that they were able to hack out victories.
“Obviously we are happy to have ground out two Ws despite not being 100% in our game,” Reyes said as he made his assessment following their victory over Chinese Taipei at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
And surely such was the case, in particular naturalized player Andray Blatche, who I will go out on a limb and say played his worst basketball in a Gilas uniform since joining the team in 2014.
In the two games, Blatche averaged 9.5 points, 13 rebounds and four assists, not bad necessarily but for his standards they could have been better most definitely.
Beyond the numbers, the rhythm, lift and explosiveness have not been there so far for the one-time National Basketball Association campaigner which somehow has affected his effectivity in the tournament.
Reyes shared that Blatche apologized to the team following the two games for his “subpar” performance to date and promised to do better in the next windows, which I hope he does fulfill, more so we are set to take on Australia in our group as well as an expected jacked-up challenge from Japan and Chinese Taipei.
Three-point shooting was also not there for us so far as we only shot 28% from beyond the arc, hitting 6.5 shots from our 23 heaves per game.
Matthew Wright, Jayson Castro and Roger Pogoy got it going from three-point land when needed in the game against Chinese Taipei but by and large our threes have not been going down for us on a consistent basis, necessitating for the team to continuously working on it in preparation for our game next year against the big Aussies.
Bright spots for us, however, is the play of Castro, June Mar Fajardo, Wright and Kiefer Ravena.
Castro (20 ppg, 5.5. rpg and 5 apg) unretiring from national team duty is proving to be a boon to the team as he has been anchor in the true sense of the word.
Big man Fajardo (11.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg) is showing improvement not only numbers-wise but more importantly in confidence to mix it up and will himself in games.
Ravena (5 ppg, 2 rpg and 3 apg) has stepped up in the absence of the explosive Terrence Romeo and has made a solid case for himself as a Gilas backcourt staple moving forward.
Wright (11.5 ppg and 3 apg), meanwhile, has had his struggles but they have hardly dent his qualification as the resident gunner for Gilas.
Indeed, considering we are not yet there as far as top form is concerned, the two victories of Gilas have to be commended as it showed the team’s grit and determination for we could easily gone down 0-2 in the tournament outright.
Good thing there is enough time to prepare anew for the next qualifier window — February 2018 — and hopefully the team gets to work on its game and come out more in shape and battle-ready.
Congrats Gilas and more power.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.