Do-or-die: Gilas battles Lebanon in quarterfinals
CHANGSHA CITY, China—Tab Baldwin put Gilas Pilipinas’ game against Lebanon on Thursday in the right perspective for his Nationals.
“It’s the only step that matters right now,” Baldwin told reporters on the eve of the Filipinos’ quarterfinal clash with the Lebanese in the Fiba Asia Olympic Qualifier at Changsha Social Work College gym here.
“Because we can’t play (in) the semifinals without winning the quarterfinals,” added Baldwin, who is trying keep his wards focused on the task at hand instead of looking too far ahead.
Game time is 9:30 p.m. with the Filipinos, who are now the team to beat in their half of the draw, taking a five-game winning streak against a side that beat them handily the last time they clashed—in the Jones Cup in 2012, which Gilas Pilipinas eventually won.
“I don’t have a choice,” Baldwin said when asked of how he liked the matchup against a team that won just a total of two of its first six outings, and which its outspoken coach, Veselen Matic, said thrives best when tagged as the underdog.
“Whether I like it or not, it is what it is. We just play the game and do our best to win the game.”
Team Philippines is riding the momentum of that winning streak that was spiked with an 87-73 dismantling of defending champion Iran in the second round, a victory that basically put a bull’s-eye on the team’s back.
“We’re the underdogs, 100 percent (against Gilas Pilipinas),” Metic told Filipino scribes late Tuesday after qualifying to the knockout stages. “Everybody (in the team) likes it, there’s no pressure. You just have to play.”
Andray Blatche will again have to come up with a game similar to what he dished out against Iran, in which he took the 7-foot-2 Hamed Haddadi to school in playing the shaded lane.
Lebanon has no player with the size and agility to match Blatche, with the Lebanese being bannered by their own naturalized citizen, Jay Youngblood, a 6-foot-4 Detroit native who saw collegiate action for Kent State last decade.
“This (game against the Filipinos) is a good matchup. No Iran, now Philippines,” Matic said. “We can play Philippines, easy, easy.”
Matic also said that they could handle Blatche and neutralize the advantage that the former Brooklyn Net in the NBA has.
“We don’t care too much (about Blatche),” he said. “I’m very surprised he’s not in the NBA, but he is now a little out of shape.”
Lebanon last defeated a Philippine team in a Fiba Asia tournament in 1999, scoring a 60-50 win.
Jason Castro is another important piece of the Philippine machine on both ends, with the 6-foot point guard having had little problem in dominating his counterparts in the first six games.
Play with hunger
“We have to continue to work hard and continue to play with the hunger,” Castro told the Inquirer. “There’s no room to relax at this stage. It’s a one-miss-you-die situation for all of us here.”
Only eight teams are left standing after a week of battles with some of the heavyweights in the region finding themselves in a collision course early after that upset of the Iranians by Gilas.
China, South Korea and the Iranians will be in the other half of the draw, with Iran colliding with the Koreans at 2:30 p.m. for a place in the Final Four.
The Chinese, the only team left undefeated after two rounds of preliminary play, are heavily favored to rip India in the 7:30 p.m. contest with Qatar the slight favorite over Japan in the 4:45 p.m. tiff.
The winners of the Gilas Pilipinas-Lebanon and Qatar-Japan games will advance to a semifinals confrontation, which is slated on Friday.
Efficient outside shooting
Baldwin and his staff watched Lebanon’s 80-76 victory over Jordan in its entirety on Tuesday night and they would be making his team ready to counter the efficient outside shooting of the Lebanese.
Gilas has given all the teams a different look defensively, with Baldwin mixing up its defensive tactic depending on the opponent.
Against Iran, the Filipinos played a relentless full court press the entire afternoon before switching to zone in defeating India, 99-65, that formally sealed top ranking in their bracket.
“They shot the ball really well and we know that they are a good transition team,” Baldwin said. “They have good size, though they’re really not that big, and Lebanese teams always battle hard.
“This is a team that can have really good games and we have to play well to beat this team and progress.”
The last time these two national sides clashed was in Taipei three years ago when the Lebanese, then handled by Ghassan Sarkis, scored a 91-72 victory in the early stages of the Jones Cup.
That loss was the wake-up call that the Filipinos needed as they won the next five games, including that classic overtime victory over the United States in the final playdate.
The Lebanese team seeing action here is entirely different than the one that beat Gilas in Taipei. That year, Lebanon had 6-foot-10 former PBA import Jarrid Famous as its naturalized player. It also had Elle Stephan and the scoring machine Fadi El-Khatib.
El-Khatib had problems insuring his lucrative contract with China pro team Foshan and elected not to play, while Stephan, who dropped six 3-pointers on the way to 26 points against the Filipinos in Taipei, stayed home.
(Changsha Social Work College Gym)
2:30 p.m. – Iran vs South Korea
4:45 p.m. – Japan vs Qatar
7:30 p.m. – India vs China
9:30 p.m. – Gilas Pilipinas vs Lebanon
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