Even with Gilas Pilipinas playing the long game in terms of development, a loss to a beatable team still bites. The Philippine National Men’s Basketball Team kicked off its 2022 FIBA Asia Cup campaign with a 95-80 loss to Lebanon and while it was not for lack of trying, a loss like this is tough to swallow, especially when in hindsight, things could have been closer regardless of the result.
Prior to the competition, Gilas head coach Chot Reyes had already tried to manage expectations with this young and depleted squad, but many have a hard time taking it seriously considering the lackluster performance he led the Philippines to in earning the silver medal during the 31st SEA Games in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Gilas actually had a decent start to their opening game of the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup, moving the ball well and scoring from various spots on the floor to take a 27-22 lead into the second quarter. However, Lebanon pounded the ball inside, taking advantage of the Philippines’ lack of size and flipping the early deficit into a 46-39 lead at halftime.
A barrage of 3-pointers from both teams kept the margin where it was, but Lebanon was able to complement their shooting (they made 50 percent of their 3-point attempts in the game) with relentless effort in the paint. In the end, Lebanon’s lead was never in danger and Gilas’ chances of advancing to the next round became much tougher.
The injuries to Ange Kouame, Dave Ildefonso, Dwight Ramos, RJ Abarrientos, and Thirdy Ravena, who had a hard fall in the second quarter further dimmed the outlook for the Philippines. Abarrientos and Ravena saw action against Lebanon, with the latter returning to finish with 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists in the loss, but in the end, it wasn’t enough to turn things around in Gilas’ favor.
The size, or lack thereof, was evident in the loss. Lebanon got what they wanted on offense so long as they blew by their initial defenders and easily scored against a team with porous interior defense. Having no Kouame or even Kai Sotto meant that much of the burden fell on Geo Chiu, Carl Tamayo, and Poy Erram, although the latter barely made his presence felt.
Turnovers, especially in the first three quarters, also widened the gap as the extra possessions created more opportunities for Lebanon to attack inside. Sure, the Philippines had a rebounding advantage for much of the game and was outrebounded 38-35 by the end of the game, but what’s the use of all those rebounds if one can’t maintain possession?
Admittedly, Reyes veered away from the Dribble drive all day everyday offense that (fairly or unfairly) gets a bad rap, but then the moments where most of the players were simply standing around waiting for something on offense certainly won’t do them any favors against physical teams that will get into their heads. Staying active will be helpful in giving them open shots especially against taller and more experienced teams.
The passing within the team is obviously a welcome development with the likes of Kevin Quiambao throwing some nifty passes from all over the court. Passing can get contagious especially when it leads to great shots, and it’s nice to see when Gilas does not give up on the play.
At the individual level, the Ravena brothers will be crucial in making the offense more balanced with the likes of SJ Belangel (team-high 17 points) and Bobby Ray Parks Jr. (15 points), who found their spots offensively. Kiefer had a particularly atrocious night for his standards, as he didn’t make a field goal until the final 25 seconds of the game. The four assists show Kiefer can still help run the offense, but he becomes an even more dangerous player when his shot is falling.
Thirdy did not necessarily have a bad game, but he would have to keep attacking so long as his health allows it. Hopefully, he will be able to play without any restrictions moving forward as he and Carl Tamayo (15 points) were the only ones who provided the frontcourt punches.
A loss certainly sucks, but there were some positives that Gilas Pilipinas can pick up from the game against Lebanon and perhaps future contests as they continue their buildup towards the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Wins and losses aren’t the main goals of Chot Reyes and his staff, but you have to hope that there will still be progress made as the competition to be hosted by the Philippines, Japan, and Indonesia inches closer.