MANILA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) – The Philippines squandered a double-digit lead and very nearly blew it against a determined and desperate Japanese team in the second window.
Gilas Pilipinas led by as many as 15 points in this game and were up by 13 points with just under 6 minutes to go before the Akatsuki Five unfurled a furious 16-8 run in the final minutes to put a serious scare in the 10,000-plus home spectators at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Philippines head coach Chot Reyes, however, thanked the fans who supported the team and gave them the motivation to pull out the win.
“We were really counting on the crowd to provide the push,” Reyes added. “Shout out to all our fans who watched. We did not want to let the crowd down.”
Many were surprised at how strongly the Japanese played, especially given their loss two nights ago at home to upstart Chinese Taipei but not Reyes, who has faced Japan many times in the past.
“We expected to struggle in this game,” Reyes said. But we didn’t panic. We made sure our second unit was prepared. They would be the ones that would bring us back in This game.”
Reyes was spot-on, of course, because after coach Julio Lamas’s crew raced to a 16-point first quarter lead at 20-4, things looked bleak for the Philippines and their fans were eerily silent. Supporting cast members Kiefer Ravena, RR Pogoy and Troy Rosario, however, sparked a big 17-2 blast to end the first period that put the Filipinos in a prime spot to retake the advantage, which they did in the second stanza.
Ravena, touted to be the next superstar of the national team, was quick to deflect the credit.
“It’s just such an important thing to be able to train and play with so many great players on a daily basis,” he said. “Andray and Jayson also stepped up when we needed them, and that was huge. We will learn from this.”
Andray Blatched did come up big with 18 points and 16 rebounds, though it was laced with 5 turnovers, including a crucial one late in the game that enabled Japan to trim the deficit to just 2 points. Jayso Castro, meanwhile, started cold, but he was able to hit the shot that mattered most in the Philippines’ final offensive set that extended their lead to 4 points again.
Coach Chot echoed Ravena’s sentiments about Blatche, who received a lot of flak from Philippine hoop nuts after they dropped their game against Australia three days ago.
“Andray Blatche is our guy,” he said. “He makes us competitive. Hopefully, this game puts an end to all the bad talk on Dray.”
Reyes also gave credit to energizing crowd favorite Calvin Abueva, who wowed the crowd with his trademark aggressiveness and swagger. That’s not bad for a player who was not even supposed to be on the team after missing a number of their practice sessions weeks ago. That issue notwithstanding, Reyes was thoroughly impressed with Abueva’s play in this particular encounter.
“Calvin led us in efficiency today,” Reyes said. “He played like he really wanted to be here.”
The Philippines now carry a 3-1 card heading into the third window in June and July, where they are set to face Chinese Taipei on the road before hosting the Boomers at the Philippine Arena on 2 July.