Gilas lets a great chance slip against Lebanon

It’s hard not to feel like the Philippine men’s basketball team lost a game it could have and should have won on the road against Lebanon in the opener of the World Cup qualifiers’ fourth window.

What we saw was undoubtedly the most talented Gilas roster in recent history, highlighted by former NBA Sixth Man of the Year Jordan Clarkson, Filipino basketball prodigy Kai Sotto, and the rest of a roster where each name rings a bell for even casual Philippine basketball observers.



Ultimately it was a mixture of Gilas’ own self-inflicted mistakes and a heroic late-game stretch by FIBA Asia Cup MVP Wael Arakji that decided the outcome. The Philippines is assured a spot in the 2023 FIBA World Cup as a host nation, but in terms of on-court performance, their latest results have not validated that honor.

Of course there’s the opportunity for a quick turnaround with an upcoming home game at the Mall of Asia Arena on Monday against a Saudi Arabia team that this Gilas squad should theoretically defeat. The Philippines, which will have the superior roster, is ranked 34th in FIBA’s rankings, while Saudi Arabia is at 80.

Then again, Lebanon is ranked at 54 and that’s now two consecutive victories for them against the Filipinos, who no longer have the argument of fielding the inferior team.

Controversial national team head coach Chot Reyes rued his team’s turnovers and the lack of preparation as the root of the problem. That sounds like such a common trend for the national program at this point that invoking frustration or trying to find a solution feels like hitting a worn punching bag.

Lebanon won with patient and cerebral basketball. They played with controlled aggression when needed to. They hounded a Philippine team which coughed up 21 turnovers, leading to 22 Lebanese points. The Filipinos out-rebounded their opponents 48-36, but Lebanon secured 13 offensive boards for as many second chance points and only committed 9 giveaways.

“If we get some more time, some more practice time together, then we should be able to address that,” Reyes said after the game.

The final result was indicative of a common theme regardless the level of basketball: one side in sync and playing with harmony on both ends of the floor, outdueling the other team that was propelled by individual brilliance. The former usually fairs better when it comes to the little things in close games, like fighting for a loose ball, or limiting mistakes.

Jordan Clarkson wasn’t exceptional but nevertheless impressive with 27 points, 7 assists, and 6 boards. He shot 6-of-17 from the field but his efficiency was saved by a 13-of-16 display from the foul stripe.

He hit 2-of-9 from deep. The made long balls were nice, including a post-shot celebration which resembled usual mind-games seen in random pick-up contests across the country, and a beautiful off-balanced buzzer-beater to end the first half, drawing the ire of the rabid Lebanese crowd.

But Clarkson’s other triples were inefficient step-back Js. To be fair it’s one of the shots he regularly hits for the Utah Jazz in the NBA, but when the shots don’t fall, it can stall a team’s offense and provide a runway for the other side to attack or get a cross-match off the rebound.

“I think it was all around a really good effort. We had a chance to win the game. I missed some shots towards the end of the game that I feel like I usually make,” he said afterwards.

It could do Gilas wonders to try and get Clarkson into more actions that begin off-ball, including dribble hand-offs, pin-downs, or stagger screens to get him in the post. His first two jumpers were in the block against Lebanon’s smaller defenders who were unable to contain him one-on-one. It’s no incident he got to the foul line as many times as he did.

Lebanon did a good job of getting the ball out of his hands with double and triple-teams but Jordan proved to be a willing passer. Clarkson connected with an open Sotto on a number of highlight plays and did a good job trusting an open Dwight Ramos to hit shots.

Sotto finished with 10 points, 8 rebounds, 2 blocks, and a fantastic job defending the rim, although his still-developing strength and endurance were put to the test in the paint a few times down the stretch.

Ramos was incredible with 18 points, 10 boards, 2 assists, and 6 steals. On a day where he was playing with an NBA player, he wasn’t a far second in on-court production.

Still, Gilas’ late-game execution left much to be desired. The plays they were running weren’t crisp, the ball didn’t find itself in the right hands and right situations with the game on the line. When Clarkson wasn’t directly running an offensive sequence, there were too many times he was a bystander rather than used as a decoy to create for others.

That’s on the coaching staff to figure out. Reyes is right that lack of cohesion will impede a basketball team’s potential regardless of the talent, but this is the bed the SBP program made – which includes quite a hefty investment to have Clarkson in uniform – so they have to sleep in it.

At the least, there’s positivity with this current national squad. One win is all it takes to turn momentum around, which Gilas could use with the World Cup less than a year away. Any kind of victory, but especially a lopsided one, on Monday could be the spark. Plus, the opportunity to watch this roster on a holiday evening? The Philippine crowd will truly enjoy it.

“For us, this is bright. We’re just getting this team together,” Clarkson shared.

That past recent defeats have been coined as a “great learning experience.” Ultimately, the learning experiences will have to turn to tangible results.

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