Gilas may have failed to snap the country’s 44-year losing streak to China, but their memorable performance last night puts things into perspective

By Klyde Manansala | Photo by Tristan Tamayo

It was heartbreaking, unfortunate, and not the ending we wanted to see, but Gilas Pilipinas’ two-point loss to China displayed why we wanted Jordan Clarkson to suit up for the Philippine national team. In spite of the loss, Gilas’ well-fought game amplified their arsenal that are just as adequate to bring down a powerhouse team in the Asian Games. Here are three takeaways from their remarkable fight against the Chinese national team:

Jordan Clarkson Is Worth the Wait

The country’s sports officials’ effort on getting Clarkson to play for our country paid off, as the Fil-Am Cleveland Cavaliers guard unloaded a game-high 28 points, including 16 in the third quarter alone, on top of eight rebounds, four assists, and tremendous defense that delivered a huge impact on their battle against the ferocious frontline of the Chinese national team, led by Houston Rockets’ Zhou Qi.

Despite his late-game reach-in foul that sent China’s Zhao Rui to the line, which gave them an 82-80 edge and left Gilas with just four seconds to shoot, Clarkson’s NBA-quality talent stood out throughout the game as he served as the Gilas’ focal point of offense with big help coming from the likes of Christian Standhardinger, Stanley Pringle, and Paul Lee—who missed a slightly contested triple that could have won the game for the Philippines.

“If there’s one thing that absolutely left a positive mark on Gilas’ game—aside from Clarkson’s superb debut—it’s the ascent of the team’s deadly backcourt trio composed  of Clarkson, Pringle, and Lee

Clarkson somewhat struggled in the first half, but promptly found his shooting touch, had several swipes, and showed off that he’s also a great rebounding-guard off the halftime. He finished the game with five three-pointers, some of which were converted when Gilas needed it the most, preventing China to completely build a huge lead. If Clarkson continues to drain his elbow jumpers, three-point shots, and starts to make his free throw attempts, all Gilas needs to address is their steady defense both in half-court setups and transition plays.

Aggressiveness of the Gilas’ Bigs

The Gilas set the tone early with a 5-0 start, but China’s length and size eventually made the difference, making it tough for the Gilas’ big men to attack the paint. Although Qi had numerous blocks in the first half, Gilas kept on challenging the defense of Qi and Wang Zhelin in an effort to put them in foul trouble. They also stayed aggressive in the opposite end as they were just two rebounds shy of China’s 49 boards.

Asi Taulava was part of the starting five of coach Yeng Guiao, but as soon as Qi started hitting his three-point shots—which was the only reason why they were up in the first half— Guiao realized that they needed someone quicker to close in on Qi from downtown. When Standhardinger was deployed, he quickly attacked the defense of China’s big men although Qi had met him upstairs for a couple times. Despite those blocks, it didn’t discourage Standhardinger and the likes of Beau Belga and Raymond Almazan from taking it on the inside. Aside from this, Gilas’ frontline also ran coast to coast with the guards every time they got a chance to score on fast breaks.

“When Standhardinger was deployed, he quickly attacked the defense of China’s big men although Qi had met him upstairs for a couple times. Despite those blocks, it didn’t discourage Standhardinger and the likes of Beau Belga and Raymond Almazan from taking it on the inside

Moreover, the open threes given to the guards wouldn’t have been possible without the smart screens coming from Standhardinger, Poy Erram, Belga, and Almazan. So, props to the big men of Gilas for putting up a tough fight.

The Gilas’ Lethal Backcourt Trio

Considering that Clarkson arrived just two weeks ago and had very little time to get to know his teammates, the combo guard seemed to seamlessly blend in quickly into the system as he had four assists throughout the course of the game, including a fast break alley-hoop play with Almazan. Clarkson also displayed his pass-first mentality especially in the first half where he was seen looking for his open teammates and igniting transition plays right from the get-go.

If there’s one thing that absolutely left a positive mark on Gilas’ game—aside from Clarkson’s superb debut—it’s the ascent of the team’s deadly backcourt trio composed  of Clarkson, Pringle, and Lee. The three flashy and explosive guards drilled in timely threes that helped Gilas keep within striking distance, highlighted by a long bomb from Lee a few meters away from the three-point line that tied the game at 74 in the third. Pringle also showed off his unpredictable hop step as he scooped in a couple of lay-ups against the long arms of Qi late in the fourth. Lee also had persistent fade-away shots while Clarkson kept on converting from beyond the arc.

“Gilas has surely earned the respect and already sent a strong and clear message to all other teams they will meet soon: That they’re not a team to be taken lightly

The game was overall a winnable one—it just so happened that the normal breaks of the game occurred at the most crucial time. China had the luckiest break after Standhardinger’s missed put back and Clarkson’s untimely foul, but Gilas has surely earned the respect and already sent a strong and clear message to all other teams they will meet soon: That they’re not a team to be taken lightly.

Gilas will likely face Korea in the quarterfinals, but coming off a convincing game against China, Philippines clearly has a shot at bagging a medal in the men’s basketball tournament of the 18th Asian Games.