Credit to Palestine as Gilas embarrassed in Fiba Asia opener loss
CHANGSHA City, China—Palestine came into the 2015 Fiba Asia Championship here with the field knowing very little of the war-torn country.
After posting an upset 75-73 win over Gilas Pilipinas on Wednesday afternoon, everyone now knows that the Palestinians are for real, and that they could very well be the top qualifiers after the first phase of Group B play at Changsha Social Work College gym.
Sani Sakakini, the European league veteran whom his national team was built around, and Jamal Abu Shamala took turns in hurting the Filipinos in the stretch as the Palestinians authored the first reversal of the tournament to suddenly become a team to be reckoned with.
Sakakini completed a three-point play off Dondon Hontiveros with 15.8 seconds remaining as the Palestinians, seeing action for the first time in this tournament, completed a comeback from nine points down with 4:41 to play and deal the Filipinos a wake-up call.
“We’re a young team and we are working hard to gain experience, especially for the young players,” said Palestine coach Jerry Steele.
Sakakini and Abu Shamala have all the experience, with the shooting guard having played collegiate ball with the University of Minnesota and Sakakini being a veteran of professional leagues in China, Lebanon and Jordan.
The loss was bitter one to swallow for the Filipinos, who came into this tournament as the overwhelming picks to dominate their bracket, which also has Hong Kong and Kuwait.
But a scoring drought after that nine-point lead did the Filipinos in, with that next basket coming courtesy of Andray Blatche coming with 1:11 remaining for Gilas’ last stand, 73-72.
The Filipinos still had a chance to at least forge overtime, but Terrence Romeo and Jason Castro were both hesitant to take the crucial shot, as the ball ended up in the hands of Blatche who took an off-balanced three-pointer that hit the side of the board.
“We’re embarrassed and we should be,” Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said. “Give Palestine credit.”
Sakakini engaged Blatche in an interesting personal duel and the naturalized Filipino looked like he would be having the last laugh until the Palestinians hit their stride and scored 10 unanswered points that made it 72-71 going into the last 1:34.
Abu Shamala capped off that run with two if his six triples and it clearly put the Philippine focus in disarray.
Blatche went on to lead the Philippines with 21 points and 12 rebounds and clearly showed his dejection of the result by not joining the team in the final huddle at midcourt to address the crowd.
Blatche also was the first one out of the locker room and into the team bus, refusing to speak to anyone.
The Philippines plays Hong Kong at 9:45 a.m. on Thursday with Hong Kong to take the momentum of an 87-50 victory over Kuwait against the Filipinos in an effort to contest top seeding with Palestine in the group.