Another game, another problem

September 01, 2019
Andray Blatche and Kiefer Ravena
Italy’s Marco Belinelli (C) looks for pass past Andray Blatche and Kiefer Ravena (L) of the Philippines during Basketball World Cup Group D game in Foshan. AFP

PH five faces heavyweight Serbia.

Unless Nikola Jokic and Co. play blindfolded, or fall terribly ill before tip-off, or suddenly take the first available plane back to beautiful Serbia instead of proceeding to the venue, there’s no way Gilas Pilipinas can beat the Serbians tonight.

For sure, none of the above will happen, and so the best thing for the Filipinos is give their best shot, enjoy the fun and learn a thing or two from the experience of playing opposite the title favorites.

That’s the naked truth staring in the faces of the Filipino cagers as they return to the court to face the Serbians at 7:30 p.m. today, 48 hours after they were beaten black and blue by an Italian side that was good, terribly good, up to the final second of their debut game in the Fiba World Cup in Foshan, China.

“If we had a problem with Italy, that’s also going to be the same problem, probably an even worse problem, against Serbia,” Gilas coach Yeng Guiao told Filipino sportswriters during a break in training yesterday.

“Certainly, their outside shooting is a big worry, especially with their bigs also being able to shoot that 3. (Nikola) Jokic and the rest of those guys can shoot from anywhere on the floor,” Guiao said.

And the Serbs shot anywhere on the floor against the Angolans. They made 65 percent of their field goals, including 13 of 20 three-pointers in a show of pint-point shooting that sent the big crowd oohing and aahing.

“I guess, we just have to gather ourselves again and be able to recover physically, and  find additional motivation to be able to play Serbia,” said Guiao.

A loss will send the Filipinos to the classification round even if its beats Angola two days from now in the conclusion of Group D’s side of eliminations in the 32-nation, eight-group showpiece patterned after the World Cup of football.

But despite the horrible loss to Italy, Serbian coach Sasha Djordjevic said his team won’t take Gilas lighty. In fact, they already have an idea about the Filipinos even before they played the Italians.

“We have already scouted the team. We know who we are fronting,” said Djordjevic during the postgame press conference after Serbia’s victory over Angola, 105-59.

“We know how important basketball is in the Philippines. We know how much pride (they have in) their game. We have to be ourselves thinking about us first and then we will approach the game the right way,” said Djordjevic.

Djordjevic said the team will prepare and play the game against Gilas Pilipinas the same way the Serbians have been doing in the past.

“There will be no difference in the approach of the game. We prepare each and every game the same way all the necessary information that we can give to the players,” Djordjevic said.

Why is Serbia installed as a legit contender, and the best team that can end the reign of the United States? Let us count the reasons.

Serbia is made up of NBA stars led by All-Star Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets,  Bogdan Bogdanovic of the Sacramento Kings and Boban Marjanovic of the Dallas Mavericks, plus a bevy of Euro league mainstays.

The Serbians have been together for a long time, toughened by stints in the Euro leagues, reason why each of them knows what to do whenever fielded in as they usually display clock-work precision that’s the hallmark of every victorious European team.

And they’re coming off a runner-up finish to an American team powered by marquee names such as Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Kyrie Irving when this biggest basketball showcase was last held in 2014 in Spain.

In their debut on the same day the Italians were burying the Filipinos six feet under, the Serbs mauled Angola, 105-59, in a game that was theirs for the taking as early as the second period.

And the Serbians went undefeated in their tuneup games ahead of the World Cup, going 11-0 including an easy win against the Azzuri.

Indeed, Yeng and his Gilas have a problem.

Against the Italians, the Filipinos started tentatively and got stymied by errors that came aplenty, to the chagrin of President Détente who watched the mauling in the company of, who else, senator and close aide Bong Go.

On the other hand, the Azzuri went bang, bang, bang from the get-go, converting 15 of their 18 shots as they planted the seeds of a breakaway which the Filipinos tried grimly but failed horribly to contain.

Probably, the President was not surprised by the outcome since he had told a group of businessmen back home several weeks ago that the Filipinos wouldn’t hold a candle against the Italians.

“Wala, talo tayo sa mga iyan. Lalaki ng mga g#$@g yan,” the President said, eliciting wide grins from his audience.

The President was right after all.

Before the game, Mr. Duterte went inside the locker room, shaking hands with the Filipino players and coaches and urging them to give their all against the Italians.

The President was seen clapping and looking at the scoreboard everytime Gilas scored. Too sad, the Mr. Duterte’s moments of joy came few and far between as the Filipinos fired blanks most of the time, as if the basket was small as a paper plate.

“We came to this game (against Italy) knowing we were the underdogs, but we would’ve wanted to play it in a better way and even if we lost we would’ve wanted to play better,” said Guiao during the post-game conference.

“Our problem was we had early turnovers. We fed their runs with our own turnovers and we couldn’t make our outside shots, which to me was really the key to beating a big team like Italy,” he added.

“They have the size with their guards that we didn’t have and they had the quickness with their bigs which we didn’t have,” Guiao said.

Meantime, Malacanang praised the Filipino cagers for showing grit and passion on the night they got a terrible beating from the Italians.

Sadly, grit and passion were the only things Gilas showed against Italy on that forgettable evening.