The Philippine men’s national basketball squad, known as the “Gilas Pilipinas,” introduced themselves to the world in rousing fashion as they played tough, up-tempo and hard-nosed basketball before eventually falling to Croatia in overtime, 78-81, at the start of the group stage round of the Fiba World Cup last night at the City Arena in Sevilla, Spain.
It was a close loss in Group B that certainly felt like a victory for the Filipinos as they were expected to get blown out by a Croatian side that boasted of two NBA players and a skyscraper-like frontline.
Instead, the Gilas injected its puso-powered brand of action to the equation to rally from an early 15-point deficit and even take a three-point lead late in the fourth.
In the end, though, it just wasn’t enough as Brooklyn Nets guard Bojan Bogdanovic scored six of his 26 points in the extra session, including two freethrows that put his team ahead for good, 77-75, with 41 seconds remaining.
Naturalized player Andray Blatche scored 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Gilas. However, he shot poorly from the field and had a whopping seven turnovers.
Jeff Chan added 17 points spiked by four three pointers while Marc Pingris battled tooth-and-nail down low against the bigger Croatian frontline to chip in 10 markers.
Croatia got 12 more from Krunoslav Simon and 10 from Dario Saric.
For a moment, it seemed as if the Gilas would come away with an incredible win as they took a three-point lead, 69-66, after three free throws by Jeff Chan and a layup by Blatche with 2:20 to go.
But Croatia answered back with five straight – a triple from Simon and a long two from the corner by Saric – to regain the lead, 71-69.
Jayson Castro showed why he was hailed as Asia’s best guard during the Fiba Asia Men’s Championship last year as he tied the game with a floater with 39 ticks left.
The Gilas even had a shot to win the game in regulation as they regained the ball after Simon missed his layup attempt. However, Chan’s last-second jumper came up short at the final buzzer to send the game into overtime.
There, the Gilas had its last taste of the lead at 75-73, after two free throws by Blatche.
But Croatia’s 7-foot-1 center Ante Tomic tied the game and Bogdanovic and Daniel Rudez added crucial free throws down the stretch to give them an 81-78 lead with just six seconds remaining.
With no more timeouts, Castro sped downcourt and forced a desperate three-point heave from the left wing that fell short.
The Gilas battles Greece at 2 a.m. (Philippine time) tomorrow before facing Argentina at 11:30 p.m.