Gilas Pilipinas sank two triples in the final minute to end their tuneup game against Mighty Sports in an 85-85 draw on Monday at the Meralco Gym. The exhibition game was part of the national team's preparations for the 2019 FIBA World Cup in August.
Down 85-79 with 1:37 left in the final frame, Gilas was able to tie the game after getting quality looks from downtown off timeouts. A 3-pointer by Marcio Lassiter first closed the gap to within three before CJ Perez hit another trey of his own with 14.7 seconds left on the clock.
McKenzie Moore later missed a contested game-winning attempt in the dying seconds for Mighty Sports, which was handled by former Gilas coach Rajko Toroman in the absence of head coach Charles Tiu.
Gilas coach Yeng Guiao seemed satisfied with how Gilas played together.
"Coming into the game, I didn't really expect much. But guys showed really good effort," Guiao said. "Nobody really was trying to dominate the game, the ball was moving around. They showed good effort and defense."
June Mar Fajardo, Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, Robert Bolick, Roger Pogoy, Mark Barroca, Poy Erram, Matthew Wright and Japeth Aguilar all played in the tuneup for Gilas.
RUNNING THE BREAK
As important as the late game explosion from downtown was for Gilas, the team wouldn't have overcome its halfcourt offense woes in the first quarter if it didn't run a lot against Mighty Sports.
Roger Pogoy and the rest of Gilas' second unit picked up the pace in the second quarter and trimmed the lead to 38-37. They entered halftime trailing by three and in the second half continued their aggressive transition play and timely shooting.
"They were a couple men down but they did good. They've always been good. Tonight they were killing us in transition, they definitely got shooters. They're a great team. With the pieces that they're missing with Andray, they're gonna do pretty well in the World Cup," Mighty Sports import Renaldo Balkman said.
APPROACHING TOP FORM
Mighty Sports, on the other hand, performed as well as they could have with a few days left before they fly out for the Jones Cup. A starting lineup of four imports (Moore, Renaldo Balkman, Eugene Phelps, and Zach Graham) alongside Fil-Am point guard Jason Brickman put the national team through some scoreless stretches in that opening period struggle. Later in the second half, the team turned to Roosevelt Adams and Jeremiah Gray to punish a Gilas side that appeared to be pulling away early in the fourth quarter.
"For the most part, for us to be together for one week, we're doing pretty well. We definitely need improvement though," said Balkman. "Our practices have been great. We gotta get ourselves in shape, we gotta get ourselves back to where gotta be at on our offense and defense. We got a couple more games before we start playing. That's why we're here. At the end of the day, practice makes perfect."
After what they could consider a positive display against Gilas, Balkman appears optimistic about their chances come July 12 against some of Asia's top clubs.
"I'm gonna give it my all, whatever my strengths are to the team. That's what my guys gotta do, too. Whatever their strengths are, they have to come out and play their game and don't do nothing else. Nothing extra. They brought in guys to do what they do best. We got scorers, we got defense, offensive players and all that," he said.
NO KIEFER YET
Eleven players saw action for Gilas in the practice game. Kiefer Ravena did not play. Guiao said he was being cautious. Ravena, who is still serving the 18-month ban imposed by FIBA last year, still can't play in games until late August, although he's allowed to participate in practices.
"I did not want to take a gamble on Kiefer but I'm sure he would have done well if I used him," Guiao said. "Actually we've consulted a lot of people. His situation is a gray area as of now, although I think we could have justified if we used it. But we didn't gamble. It's better to be prudent than to regret it later."
Guiao said he has not decided yet whether Ravena will play in the Gilas' tuneup games in Spain.
MINI-REUNION FOR GILAS 1.0
Toroman was able to enjoy some light moments with his former Gilas players shortly after the game. Mark Barroca and Marcio Lassiter, took some photos to mark the occasion. Toroman said he has kept an eye on the two over the years.
"I'm very happy. I always watch, even if I was not here. Six years, almost six years, I've been following, I've been watching the games of PBA," he said. "I'm glad when I see the guys. Both of them, even in San Miguel, (June Mar) Fajardo and Marcio, they picked him up from United States that time. Barroca is playing a lot of years on the highest level. And it's very, very enjoying to watch them because they really started to be great players."
NEXT UP FOR TOROMAN
Toroman's foray with Mighty Sports won't be the only reason for his visit in the country this year as he's set to return with Indonesia in the Southeast Asian Games this December. He admitted that there's still a big gulf in the level of play between the Philippines and his team, but he made it a point to say that closing the gap isn't the main focus for the up-and-coming Indonesian program.
"It's very difficult in this moment for Indonesia to catch Philippines and to make some surprise because our target is not SEA Games. Our target is [improving] Indonesian basketball because you know that Indonesia is hosting the 2023 World Cup," Toroman said. "It will be very, very tough job. But if we come closer to Philippines, I will be happy."