GILAS Pilipinas shocked Iran, 87-83, on Monday and, suddenly, hopes for the country earning a berth in the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics are flying high and mighty.
Jayson Castro proved why he is the best point guard in the 2013 Asian Championships and naturalized player Andray Blatche showed he is the missing link, as the Philippines created a big dent on the Iranians’ supposed invincibility in the International Basketball Federation (Fiba) Asia Men’s Championship at the Changsa Social Work College Gymnasium in Hunan, China.
With the victory, Gilas shared the top spot in the second phase of the preliminaries of the Rio qualifier with the Iranians with a 3-1 won-lost record.
The win was crucial for the Filipinos, who could emerge as the No.1 seed in Group E if they beat a dangerous India side at 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday. A victory would avert an early collision by Gilas with host China in the knockout quarterfinal stage.
The country’s campaign in the continental championship started south with a stinging 73-75 loss to unranked and Asiad first-timer Palestine in the Group B preliminaries, casting doubts especially on Head Coach Tab Baldwin, who almost blew a game against Thailand in last June’s Southeast Asian Games with the Gilas cadets.
And the uncertainty creeped further when Iran, which beat its earlier opponents in Changsa by an average of 49 points, erected a 47-37 lead in the third period on Nikha Bahrami’s three-pointer.
But Castro, Blatche and Terrence Romeo teamed up for a huge 27-10 assault for a 64-57 Gilas lead before settling for a 65-60 advantage entering the fourth period.
Castro, a member of the Mythical Five of the 2013 Asian Championship in Manila, nailed a three-pointer to spark another 15-7 exchange he capped with a lay-up to help Gilas to its biggest lead, 80-67, 3:10 remaining.
Iran looked frustrated in that stretch with its celebrated 7-foot-2 center Hamed Haddadi committing his fifth and final foul on Abueva. He vigorously complained to the referees and compounded his team’s woes with a technical foul.
Without Haddadi, Iran never recovered and the Philippines finally ended its losing woes to Iran. A Philippine team coached by Chot Reyes last beat Iran, 77-75, to win the William R. Jones Cup.
Iran beat the Philippines twice last year—68-63 in the Incheon Asian Games and 76-55 in the Asia Cup.
In the 2013 Asian Championship, Iran defeated the Filipinos in the gold-medal game, 85-71. The other Iranian victories over Philippine squads were in the Asia Cup 2012, 77-60, and 2010, 79-67, and in the 2010 Guangzhou Asian Games, 65-49. All three Gilas teams were coached by Serbian Rajko Toroman.
In the 2009 Asian Championships, the Philippines under Yeng Guiao also lost to Iran, 78-88, as well as in the 2007 Asian Championships, 69-75, under Reyes.
Castro finished with 26 points and Blatche added 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks for Gilas. Romeo continued to impress off the bench with 15 points, while Abueva was as solid with 13 points and six rebounds.
Gilas also clamped down on Haddadi. The former National Basketball Association center finished with only 10 points. Bahrami led the Iranians with 21 points, while Mahdi Kamrani and Sajjad Mashayekhi had 11 points each.
Iran now must beat Palestine on Tuesday to avoid getting into a hole in Group E.
Image credits: FIBA.COM