For a time in their 2023 SEA Games Men’s 5×5 Basketball competition opener against Malaysia, Gilas Pilipinas could not convert on their shot attempts. The open shots were there, as Gilas broke down the Malaysian zone enroute to open driving lanes and 3-point shots. But then, it was miss after miss for Gilas Pilipinas, to the point that one could have built a house with all the misses.
So what did the Philippines do to adjust? Buckle down on defense.
Gilas Pilipinas drove Malaysia to the point of exasperation that Malaysia would commit frustration fouls, handing points out at the free throw line and in transition. The more Gilas put pressure on the defensive end, the more the Malaysians made mistakes that the Philippines happily pounced on.
Gilas Pilipinas held a comfortable lead for much of the game and if there was any rust to be shaken off, it might as well have all gone away in their 94-49 win over Malaysia.
Gilas has the ability to deploy various looks defensively, all of which can annoy opposing teams. Christian Standhardinger can bring the brute force inside, while Michael Phillips’ activity (15 rebounds, five steals, and two blocks) proved to be disruptive. In the backcourt, Chris Ross remains the tip of the spear, but the likes of Marcio Lassiter, Jerom Lastimosa, and Chris Newsome did their part in making life tough for the Malaysian backcourt.
Defense may have been the key to victory in the Philippines’ 45-point decimation of Malaysia, but there will be a time when Gilas Pilipinas’ offense must come alive. Against the Malaysians, Justin Brownlee finished with 11 points, but much of his offense came with the game pretty much decided. Brownlee opted to get everyone involved, and it was warranted given Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser’s (game-high 15 points) activity early on.
Gilas’ passing has been able to generate solid looks, but the hope is that these will be converted against the likes of Cambodia and Singapore, who both could prove to be tougher especially with a favorable spot in the semifinals on the line. Cambodia will be an ideal gauge given that a part of their roster will be made up of naturalized players who beat the Philippines in the finals of the Men’s 3×3 Basketball competition. It would also be fair to think of the likes of defending SEA Games 5×5 Men’s Basketball Indonesia and 2021 SEA Games bronze medalist Thailand, but let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Survive and advance from Group B first.
Gilas Pilipinas can’t afford to have a repeat of the cold shooting performances from Lastimosa (3-for-9), Calvin Oftana (2-for-6), and the highly-touted Mason Amos (3-for-12) if they want to advance in the next round. The hope is that Oftana can recover quickly from his reported calf strain, while Amos and Lastimosa would like to have left their missed shots against Malaysia. As a team, though, Gilas must improve their free throw shooting, as they only made 58.3 percent of their 24 free throw attempts against the Malaysians, who made 83.3 percent of their 12 attempts. It may not have mattered now for the Philippines, but when Gilas Pilipinas will be in a close game, it may make all the difference between a gold medal and another disappointing finish.
It goes without saying that the easiest assignment may be done for Gilas head coach Chot Reyes and his staff, who nonetheless deserve credit for the win today. The lineups they deployed helped avert an upset and sustained the effort for much of the competitive portions of the contest. Yes, Malaysia may not exactly be the best litmus test for where the Philippines may be, but the victory certainly gave confidence to the likes of Ganuelas-Rosser, Phillips, and Arvin Tolentino, who may have their numbers called again when Reyes needs someone to step up.
A rough start for Gilas Pilipinas would not deny them a solid opening win over Malaysia as they begin their path to redemption. Sure, the win was expected and yes there are some things that they need to iron out, but Gilas got the job done in this game.
But in the grander scheme of things, is the job finished? No. The Philippines must keep reminding themselves of that because the path to the gold medal is not exactly a cakewalk.