The Koreans did it again. Yup, Korea once again proved to be the country’s bane as they unceremoniously dismantled the Gilas Team 118-86 in the ongoing FIBA Asia Cup Championship. Not only did it put a sudden end to the Philippine campaign in the FIBA Asia Cup 2017; it totally embarrassed us with the huge margin we never imagined possible.
Gilas had earlier scored impressive wins over China, Iraq and Qatar; topping Group B of the qualifying round, and briefly raising expectations for another podium finish. The win over the defending champs and perennial championship contender China was particularly ecstatic as it got everyone dreaming of the possibility of another championship.
And then came the Koreans.
We have had a long running history with South Korea for cage supremacy in Asia. Long before China and the West Asian countries asserted their height and heft on the hardcourt, it was almost always South Korea which would give us our biggest challenge in this game we so love.
Korea had given Philippine fans many heartaches in basketball. So that when reports of a possible early face-off with our arch-rivals loomed, there was more than the customary expression of anxiety seen in the faces of diehard Filipino fans. Will the curse of Korea manifest itself once again?
Indeed, that concern was justified.
The Koreans came in superbly prepared. Their offense hummed perfectly like a well-oiled machine, breaking down our man-defense with precision pick-and-rolls and fluid movement without the ball. The South Koreans have learned their basketball fundamentals well, and they move as a team, unlike Filipino cagers who may be more gifted and thus, rely more on individual talent.
Defense was the key. It was the big lesson to be learned in this episode. While our offense worked well as evidenced by the 86-point offensive output, we failed miserably to adjust on defense; giving up a horrendous 118 points, the largest scoring output by far registered in the tournament! Chalk it perhaps to the lack of preparation time due to the PBA schedule. But our defensive options were simply too limited. We didn’t have any defensive focus, relying entirely on the offense to try to outscore our perennial nemesis.
The Korean coach found an answer to shut down Terence Romeo after his torrid 2nd quarter scoring spree. Terence was blanked the rest of the way in the second half. Korea did it by employing a 3-2 zone to meet Romeo way up early. This also stymied Jason Castro’s dribble-drive option as Korea’s wingmen found ways to shut down the driving lanes.
On the other end, we failed to take the Korean offense out of their rhythm. They had an answer for every option our man-defense dealt them. They executed the pick-and-roll countless times, and no adjustments were made at all. They found the open shooters countless times; again no adjustments. And when they found their groove, there was no more stopping the barrage of three-point bombs coming from all angles.
Defense, defense, defense! We cannot attribute the 118-point Korean output to good luck. To call out their atrociously-high 77% shooting percentage as just pure luck is to disrespect the amount of work and practice they put in to perfect their offensive patterns. Let’s call a spade a spade. We failed miserably in defense! Korea never had their scoring percentage reach above 60% in all their previous outings. Only against us.
This is not to put down anybody. This is simply to highlight the big lesson we must learn from this debacle. It is said that a good offense will win games. But a good, steady defense will win tournaments.