After two rounds of the FIBA Asia tournament, the Philippines are now in the quarterfinals of the tournament, and are three wins away from booking their ticket to the 2016 Olympics. Here’s a look at the path the Gilas team has travelled so far:
The First Round – Shock and Recovery
In the relatively easy Group B of the tournament, the Philippines was widely believed to top the group consisting of fairly lower ranked Hong Kong, Kuwait, and Palestine. With only one team set to be eliminated in this round, every win counts as their records will be carried over to the second round.
In their very first game, the Philippines looked like the dominant team that everyone pegged them to be, leading by as much as 15 points at the end of the first quarter, 27-12. However, the Palestinians fought back, and refused to accept that the Philippines was better than them. They kept in pace with the favorites, and eventually took the lead via a deciding 10-0 run towards the end of the quarter. In the end, it was the first timers beating one of the tournament favorites, 75-73 to the shock of everyone.
With one loss already on their record, critics and fans alike have voiced disappointment on the team. They quickly silenced everyone with a resounding 51-point win over Hong Kong, 101-50. Unlike their game against Palestine, the Philippines did not let go of the gas pedal as they led from start to finish and shackled Hong Kong with energy on defense.
If their win against Hong Kong wasn’t enough to show that the Philippines has regained their senses, they followed it up with a 46-point win against Kuwait, 110-64. More than the win, though, the game would be remembered for the scuffle between both teams near the end of the game. As the game was winding down in the fourth, Ranidel De Ocampo hit Abdulaziz Alhamidi with an elbow to the face, prompting the Kuwati to confront the referee about it. De Ocampo would later defend his action as retaliation for a low blow from the same player, and said that his teammates have been complaining about the dirty play from Alhamidi. If anything, the win and the scuffle only made the team’s bond stronger.
At the end of the preliminary round, the Philippines advanced to Group E together with fellow Group B teams Palestine and Hong Kong, as well as Group A winners Iran, Japan, and India.
The Second Round – Establishing Dominance
For the second round, six teams will be competing for four slots that will head to the quarterfinals. In this round, teams will face the teams not belonging to their group. Wins in this round will have more weight, as the final rankings at the end of this round will determine who the teams will face in the quarterfinals.
In their first game, the Philippines faced a talented Japan team, whose only loss in the tournament thus far was against Iran. The Japanese had everything going for them, with the Philippines struggling against their zone defense, and Andray Blatche getting injured in the second quarter. However, the locals stepped up, as De Ocampo and Jason Castro helped the team recover at the half for a 35-33 lead. Despite re-injuring his ankle early in the third, Blatche would show heart by returning to the game late in the game to help the Filipinos make a key run to end the game. Japan would take advantage of a hobbled Blatche, and tied the game with three minutes to play. De Ocampo would put the finishing touches to the game though, as he sparked a 9-2 run that would decide the 73-66 outcome.
It was the mighty Iran who would be in their way next. Hamed Haddadi and the Iranians have taken over the mantle of the best team in Asia that was long held by China. The Philippines have only managed to beat Iran in the 2011 and 2012 Jones Cup, but never in the bigger stages. With a renewed confidence, the Philippines hung tough against the defending champions, keeping the contest tight at 22-25 by the end of the first. Iran would show their form in the second though, as they led by as much as nine, before De Ocampo hit a three to end the half. The Gilas team made a furious run in the third, outscoring Iran 28-17 to claim the lead, 65-61. Iran was visibly frustrated by the Filipinos, and it would be most evident with four minutes to go in the game as Haddadi would get called for a technical following his fourth foul on Gilas sparkplug Calvin Abueva. With the 7-foot-2 behemoth sulking at the bench, the Filipinos put the finishing touches in the game to notch Iran’s first loss in the tournament, 87-73. In the battle between the two best point guards in Asia, Castro would hold off Mahdi Kamrani’s attempt to reclaim his spot,as he outclassed the veteran point guard with 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting. Iran coach Dirk Bauermann claimed that they got shell-shocked by the Philippines, and hoped that it would spark his team as the Palestine loss sparked their conquerors.
For their final game of the round, the Philippines needed to win against India to claim the top spot in Group E. The game didn’t start smoothly for the Philippines as India got off to a hot start. They would quickly recover though, and finish the quarter trailing by just one. Terrence Romeo would spark the team as they tried to pull away in the second quarter, as he put in nine quick points to claim the lead at the half, 42-36. They couldn’t shake off India well enough to rest Blatche though, as the feisty Indians kept in pace with the Philippines through the third. However, defense helped the Philippines break the game wide open. For much of the fourth quarter, India struggled to create anything on offense as Coach Tab Baldwin’s boys shackled them with a suffocating man to man press. The Philippines finished off India with a nifty alley-oop from Romeo to Matt Ganuelas before a three pointer from India decided the final score of 99-65. With the win, the Philippines claimed the top spot in Group E.
The Final Round – Looking Ahead
The last three games of the tournament will be a single round elimination featuring the top four finishers of each group getting cross-matched with each other. This means that the top teams will get matched up with the bottom teams, while the second seeds will get matched up with the third seeds of the other group.
For the quarterfinals, the Philippines will need to beat Lebanon in order to advance to the semifinals against the winner of Japan and Qatar. On the other quarterfinals matchup, India will face off against China with the winner advancing to challenge the winner of the Iran and Korea matchup.
The shocking loss of Korea to Qatar set the stage for a relatively easier bracket for the Philippines heading to the Finals, as three of the top five teams in the tournament will possibly be facing off against each other in the other bracket. Iran proves to have the most difficult road of all, needing to defeat Korea and China on their road to the Finals.