IN the end, Gilas Pilipinas did not fail us. In its final game, it stood tall when everyone else, including the doubting Thomas, expected it to fall.
And why is that?
Because going into Game 5, Gilas lost its first two games that were supposed to be won-games.
Because Gilas lost all its first four games when it shouldn’t.
All that happened because in Gilas’s first four games, spacing was absent, cohesion was absent and teamwork was like a soldier missing in action.
All that vanished in one fell swoop in the fifth game against China.
And woe to China for absorbing the brunt of Gilas’s terrific transformation from mediocre to brilliant in its farewell game, making the Filipinos relevant again in the ongoing Fiba World Cup.
With its shooting and nifty passing clicking in clockwork precision, erased was Gilas’s fourth-quarter collapse that led to that heartbreaking 87-81 loss to beatable Dominican Republic in Game 1 on August 25 at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.
Momentous likewise was Gilas’s smashing 97-76 rout of China on September 2 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as it buried the stigma of that 80-70 loss to Angola after Gilas blew an 11-point lead in that game’s second quarter.
Even the losses to Italy and South Sudan in Games 3 and 4 weren’t totally acceptable as they came when Gilas continued to grope for form amid issues of jelling and lack of correct player combinations.
But fortunately for coach Chot Reyes and Gilas, the absent solutions reappeared in crashing torrents in Game 5, thanks to a near-flawless teamwork that keyed shots from afar by Jordan Clarkson.
Not much of a factor in Gilas’ first four games, Clarkson, the Utah Jazz star in the National Basketball Association (NBA), drilled in 34 points, including 24 in a blazing third quarter where he banged home four straight threes that all but killed all hopes of a Chinese comeback.
And while Clarkson, the NBA’s Sixth Man awardee in 2021, was on fire in the penultimate frame, Kyle Anderson (Li Kaier), China’s import from Minnesota, went zero in that same span.
In a sense, Clarkson achieved his mission. In spearheading Gilas’S win over China, Clarkson fueled Gilas’S advance next year to the OQT, or Olympic Qualifying Tournament, for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
It can’t get any sweeter than this.
THAT’S IT Gilas’s win over China augurs well for the country’s bid for the basketball gold in the Asian Games blasting off on September 23 in Hangzhou, China. Everybody knows that China is a perennial basketball champ in the Asiad. That Gilas triumph should gun up our Asiad basketball dream once again. But will coach Chot Reyes really be gone for good? “I have a cunning plan on this,” said Al S. Panlilio, our basketball chieftain. Suspense.