SEVILLE, Spain—That big fighting heart beat aggressively and mightily on Wednesday in a crucial Group B game in the 2014 International Basketball Federation World Cup preliminaries.
Until a point guard whose size looked bigger that it looks halted all that beating when it mattered most.
Gilas Pilipinas formally saw its chances of advancing further in the tournament disintegrate after losing what started to appear like a lopsided match to a Puerto Rican side that played like wounded patriots, 73-77, no thanks to Jose Juan Barea who torched the hoops as if there was no tomorrow.
Thus, with four straight losses that could have gone the other way, Gilas would no longer finish any better than 16th place in its first legitimate foray in the world championship in 30 years. The Philippines battled on Thursday (2 p.m. here, 8 p.m. in Manila) Senegal, a team that came with so much surprise in this World Cup by reaching the next round with 2-3 win-loss mark. The Filipinos were to fight for pride by trying to snare a single victory in this World Cup at the expense of the tall and quick Senegalese. “We just couldn’t make the shots in the end,” Gilas Head Coach Chot Reyes said. “I guess we have the skills to play at this level but not the experience to win.” Experience Barea had plenty of as he orchestrated his team’s climb from as many a 14 points down in the second quarter with a calculated recovery that started also in the second period and began to sizzle in the third.
The shifty five-foot-11 guard of the Minnesota Timberwolves squeezed out of LA Tenorio’s tight and physical guarding practically all night long and wound up with 30 points—8-of-15 in field goals, including 3-of-seven on three-pointers—and was 11 of 12 from the foul line. He only sat eight minutes of the game when his coach, Paco Olmos, felt his other wards could take care of matters against a seemingly tentative Gilas crew on the court. At first, it was Tenorio who could have taken Barea’s role as Gilas’s hero in the knockout encounter.
Tenorio burned the hoops in an explosive first-quarter Gilas explosion with nine points that together with naturalized player Andray Blatche’s seven-point contribution, gave the Filipino fans that made up about half of the 5,000 in attendance at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo something to cheer about wildly.
Tenorio eventually wound up with 18 points with Blatche churning in a team-high 25 points 14 rebounds despite being the most marked man by the Puerto Ricans.
Not only did the five-foot-11 Barea showed skills that made him a giant on the court, but the leadership he had over his teammates outside of it.
“It felt very good to have a JJ Barea on the team. He did not only show his skills in the game, but his leadership—to rally his teammates—even when we were still in the hotel,” Olmos said.
The significance of the game, Olmos stressed, drew the best from his players.
“We were very aware that it was a knockout game and that we had to stay alive,” he said.
Two other Puerto Ricans gave Olmos the production he craved for—Ricky Sanches and David Huertas who combined for 30 points each.