FOSHAN, China -- The mood of Filipino fans who trooped inside the Foshan International Sports & Cultural Arena was one of joyful anticipation. It had been a long five-year wait to return to the world stage. They walked in soaking up everything like it was a dream and left having witnessed a nightmare on a the court.
No one clad in blue or white could believe what they were seeing in Gilas Pilipinas' opening game of the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup. All the turnovers, the missed shots, Italy's wide open 3-pointers and alley-oops that led to dunks. Azzurri's 10 point lead that at point ballooned to 53 -- was this real life?
Where does this leave Gilas Pilipinas, after suffering a debilitating 108-62 loss at the hands of Italy and how does this impact their strategy when they face powerhouse Serbia on Monday?
Against Italy, Gilas suffered an onslaught of 3-point shooting. Each one of the booming 3s (15-of-31, 48.3%) were back breakers, especially those that stymied any kind of hope for a comeback.
Italy wove in and out of traffic, penetrated inside, kicked out and then realigned themselves for an extra pass or two before finding the net. This movement is emblematic of a team that has five players on a string, with each player knowing when and what they needed to accomplish.
Gilas was unable to cut that string. While they prepared well for what Italy looked to do, particularly with NBA veterans Marco Belinelli and Danilo Gallinari, Italy's spectacular execution still overwhelmed them.
The Philippines' perimeter defense will have one day to regroup before facing Serbia, who were 13-for-20 on 3s in their own 105-59 blowout win against Angola on Saturday. Everyone on Serbia's squad can shoot from the outside, save for Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic.
Two wins gets you into the next round in the World Cup. Gilas knew what was at stake against Italy, a team they would have a better chance defeating than Serbia, the number four ranked team in the world.
The Philippines now needs to either sweep its last two games or get some help from Angola when they play Italy on Monday. It's a slim shot, but it's the only way the Philippines advance.
Heading into this tournament, many already predicted that the Philippines would struggle to hit the long ball, especially with Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright out with injuries.
"That rim really looked smaller and smaller as the game went by," Kiefer Ravena said after his team's 3/23 mark from long distance. "It was one of our main agendas, to really focus on our shots. We did a lot of shooting drills all throughout the preparation, even this morning. But, again, it's one of those nights for us."
Gilas will do its homework, and shooting better from outside is a fair expectation to make.
Despite the outcome, there were still bright spots, and it starts with Gilas' future in CJ Perez and Robert Bolick.
"If we're looking at anything that's positive in this game is that our young guys played hard," coach Yeng Guiao said. "CJ Perez was a rookie, got 15 points, played his heart out, as well as with Robert Bolick and Kiefer [Ravena]. If there's anything positive we can pick up from a bad loss like this is first step our young guys really gave it all."
The young players showed that they were not afraid of the big stage, attacking relentlessly against larger defenders. At one point in the game, Perez was in transition, with Gallinari back to stop the drive. Perez stared at him, elevated and finished over Gallo in one smooth, athletic attack that thrilled the crowd.
The Philippines needs more of that. Against a team like Serbia that also routed Angola, Gilas can't afford another slow start like the one they had against Italy.