Meltdown in MOA

“What the f__k happened?”

This question was still wracking my brain this morning after Smart Gilas got waylaid by a gritty Chinese Taipei Team 84-79 at the Mall of Asia (MOA) Arena last night.

It was a game of spurts for both the Philippines’ Smart Gilas Team and Chinese Taipei, with Gilas – as always – suffering from a poor start. The Taiwanese squad sprinted out of the starting gate to take the lead in the 1st quarter with their long range bombers hitting nothing but net. Gilas regrouped in the 2nd quarter, with an 11-0 run of its own. Then Taiwan retook the lead with their own 8-0 bomb. It was nip-and-tuck after that, till the Philippines ended the half on top 43-42.

Gilas seemed to have found its rhythm in the 3rd canto, unleashing a 25-point whirlwind offensive that saw Taiwan down by as much as 13 late in the period. It was a picture perfect mix of inside-outside attack, starring Jason Castro with his timely drives and Larry Fonacier detonating his 3-point bombs.

But Chinese Taipei refused to die. They showed character and better maturity as they simply tightened up their defense and nibbled on the Gilas lead in the final quarter. I thought that Gilas played a defensive game going into that fateful last quarter. Instead of playing ‘to win’; they were playing ‘not to lose’. Instead of maintaining their “attack, attack, attack’ mode; they were now tentative in their attack, and were more content eating up the time, thinking that the 13-point cushion would be enough. Absent was that sense of urgency, that single-minded focus, that drive that was so evident in the 3rd quarter.

Alas, by the time they woke up from their stupor, the Taiwan squad had gained the momentum. The Chinese artillery barrage from the 3-pt range had been finding its mark with renewed precision. Our 3rd quarter hero, Larry Fonacier, was sent in to reinforce the beleaguered offensive line, but he didn’t get enough time to reload his gun. Without the outside threat, it was now so much easier to smother the inside forays of Jason Castro and Jimmy Alapag. China won this nail-biter-of-a-game through sheer grit and determination.

What ails the Smart Gilas Team?

I think it all starts with Defensive Consistency. They say that you can have an off-night with your shooting, but you cannot have an off-night with your defense. The Gilas Team has always been notorious for giving some slack off the starting gate. They also showed that in the last canto, when they started playing “not to lose”. They were however able to demonstrate a tough-as-nails defense in the 3rd canto. And this actually led to their offensive romp that gave them their biggest lead. Not only is a solid defense good on the receiving end, it is also the bedrock for a more fluid and quicker offensive transition. Gilas needs to employ its A-defense all the time. It cannot afford to slack off for a while, then turn it on again.

And then, there is Fluidity in the Offense. At one point in the tense last few minutes of the game, Jason Castro made a move for a hard drive at the basket. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jimmy Alapag cuts right in front of his driving lane, making him readjust his attack. To me, that was a bad omen. Sure, these things can happen.  But these can be minimized and actually negated if the offensive coach puts his mind into it. There were also a lot of one-on-one offensive sets as opposed to team-generated offensive efforts during those slack periods too. And we can certainly improve on this.

The Philippine Smart Gilas Team now advances to the 2nd round. They will be toting a 1-1 win-loss card, owing to the carryover win against fellow qualifier Jordan, and the loss to Taiwan. They will be joining Qatar, Japan and Hongkong in Group E. The road to the title gets more difficult now. If we can focus more intently on a tight in-your-face defense and hone up our offensive patterns, I’m sure we can expect greater things from our boys. Let’s cheer them on, guys!!!

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