Over the FIBA international break, the Philippine National Men’s basketball team seemed to find a formula that worked.
Gilas Pilipinas played two away games during the fifth window of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers against Jordan and Saudi Arabia, respectively, with Gilas coming out on top in both matches.
The game against Jordan was a huge win not just because the Philippines handed Jordan their first home loss since 2018 (and in FIBA competitions including earlier in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers, the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup Qualifiers, and the 2019 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.), but it also puts Jordan in danger of missing the 2023 FIBA World Cup. Defense was key for Gilas as the team limited Jordan to 25 second-half points, dousing any potential momentum despite playing away from home.
Against Saudi Arabia, the Philippines needed a strong third quarter run led by RR Pogoy (team-high 13 points) to pull away in the second half. The 3-pointer was a crucial weapon for Gilas, as it helped them match Saudi Arabia shot-for-shot during the moments they would threaten.
Gilas has already been assured of a spot in the 2023 FIBA World Cup by virtue of the Philippines being a host nation, but it continues to use these qualifiers as a means to develop the prospective members of the Philippines’ FIBA World Cup roster.
From the onset, ball movement was evident from Gilas in the fifth window. The Philippines has employed the dribble drive offense (or at least most of it) for what seems like time immemorial, but it was great to see not just the ball moving around, but the players as well.
Dwight Ramos and Kai Sotto are likely to be the only shoo-ins for Gilas in the 2023 FIBA World Cup, but the likes of Scottie Thompson and CJ Perez barging into the conversation with their play in the fifth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers. Thompson, in particular, has developed chemistry with Sotto and while they have connected on a number of possessions, it has also led to points for those teammates of theirs that are either on the inside or wide open from behind the 3-point line.
Numbers-wise, Sotto and Perez were the most consistent players for the Philippines, as they scored in double-figures in both games and took turns in generating momentum for Gilas in their own way.
Regardless of whoever will end up in the final roster, there needs to be better effort in terms of interior defense. Whether it be in transition, through half court sets, or even in 50-50 possessions, defensive breakdowns can prove to be more painful, especially when the consequences manifest themselves in the form of foul trouble for rim protectors like Sotto or free throws for the opposing team. Jordan took advantage of this by drawing 30 free throw attempts, but they fortunately converted on 19 of those attempts. Later on, the Philippines tightened their defense against Saudi Arabia, as they only finished with eight attempts.
A lot of factors will come into play but talent versus roster fit will be the greatest consideration, especially with the current composition of the coaching staff. Gilas head coach Chot Reyes’ public pronouncements have emphasized how he and his coaching staff have been acting as a team in guiding the Philippines, with legendary PBA head coach Tim Cone handling the defense, while Chot’s son Josh and longtime Gilas assistant Jong Uichico handle the offense and scouting, respectively. It’s a star-studded set of coaches, who together have a combined 42 PBA championships (and two PBA grand slams).
Whether or not this will be the Philippines’ coaching staff for the 2023 FIBA World Cup also remains to be seen, but this window has shown that it works and that’s something considering the turbulent 2022 GIlas has had thus far.
Could the fifth window of the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers be the turning point for Gilas Pilipinas? It remains to be seen, but there’s something about the Gilas squad fielded in this window that has everyone buzzing.