Andray Blatche looked like he was poised to lead Gilas Pilipinas in their game against Australia. Without Jayson Castro, only the naturalized Filipino player had the talent and the size to attack the Boomers' defense and score one-on-one.
Blatche had a great first half but fizzled in the end, finishing with eight points and seven rebounds as Gilas absorbed their first loss of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers.
"I felt good in the first half. We put ourselves in a position to win the game," said Blatche after the contest. "We played great offense, played great defense. We had a couple of mistakes with inbound plays and free throws but we were right there with Australia and it was pretty fun. They came out their veteran play. We made rookie mistakes and they capitalized on it. In the second half they took off."
During Australia's run, Blatche looked a bit gassed and during dead ball situations was seen holding on to his shorts. It also did not help that June Mar Fajardo got into foul trouble, lessening the minutes Blatche spent on the bench.
"I'm extremely proud of those guys (Kiefer Ravena and Kevin Alas) but I'm going to have to talk to them because I can't bring the ball up against teams like Australia anymore," Blatche admitted. "That really took my energy away. It got me fatigued. They pressured us full court and they played physical in the half court."
With the Australians pressuring the young guards and without one-man press break Jayson Castro in the lineup, Blatche had to help out in bringing the ball down for the Philippines. He then had to face waves of Australian defenders on offense.
"It was tough. Every time I turned around and the looked at my defender's jersey, it was a different guy. It was smart of them to put fresh guys on me. They put their big heavy guys on me and then they put their smaller quicker guards on me. That was very smart because it made me very fatigued," the naturalized Filipino added.
Many fans were not pleased with Blatche's stamina during the game which has also been a problem for him in the past. However, the situation was much different this time around.
Unlike in the first window, Blatche came early to train with Gilas. As soon as he was allowed to leave by him Chinese team, he flew to the Philippines to work on his conditioning more. The problem this time was not having enough bodies in training.
Blatche wanted more runs with his teammates in scrimmage but the team was often times incomplete because of the ongoing PBA Philippine Cup. Instead, he settled on doing extra work after practices but even that was not enough to overcome what Australia had in store for him.
With Blatche slowing down, Fajardo picked up the scoring cudgels for Gilas but it was not enough to turn the game around. Blatche, who was on the bench when Fajardo did the most damage, finally understood what the Kraken hype was all about.
"June Mar was amazing," Blatche admitted. "Now I know why he's the MVP of the PBA. He made it clear to me."
Gearing up for their game against Japan, Blatche is looking to score a bounce-back win against a very hungry opponent. With Japan losing its first three games in the Asian Qualifiers, they're basically fighting for survival. He had 13 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists in their first meeting and is eager to do more.
"After the game against Japan, I'll head back to China and hopefully win another title in the CBA," Blatche, whose CBA contract expires after this season, said.
"After that, I'll go home and finally get to see my son and start training for the games in June. After that, that's when my real training camp starts. If I get my body into tip-top shape, I'm going to give it a shot at making it back to the NBA and if not then I'll look at other options."
Blatche last played in the NBA in 2014 for the Brooklyn Nets.