Gilas Pilipinas was able to identify some areas where it can improve ahead of its 2019 Southeast Asian Games campaign after dropping a 93-89 decision to Alab Pilipinas in the second tuneup between the two squads Monday at the Meralco Gym.
Defense, especially in transition, continues to be a work in progress for the national team after watching an import-laden Alab side take advantage of turnovers to turn it into a running game from start to finish.
"We're not getting back well on transition. That's really an effort area of the game and also a technique area of the game," coach Tim Cone noted. "It's really hard to work on transition defense when you have a tired team 'cause it takes a lot of sprinting back and takes a lot of effort. I think that's our biggest weakness right now, it's our ability to get back and locate guys."
Down 67-56 entering the final frame, Gilas tried to make up for that problem on the other side of the floor as gunners Marcio Lassiter, LA Tenorio and Roger Pogoy hit 3 triples in a 9-2 run that pulled the national team by 4 with 7:56 to go.
A Christian Standhardinger and-1 and put-back in consecutive possessions would keep Gilas within one twice, but the team's woes on defense continued to haunt them them as Alab found answers in the form of new import Nick King, who drilled two consecutive triples from the right to push his side ahead, 82-76.
Gilas still had a small window to get even after a Japeth Aguilar putback jam helped the nationals come within 3, 92-89, but it couldn't get another stop as Alab sank one free throw in the final 9 seconds to seal the game.
"They ate us up on the fast break. We were giving up layups or open three-point shots," Cone observed. "We gotta get better. We gotta get down the floor defensively."
"But the way we're set up right now, we really don't have the time to work on that aspect of the game. But still, it comes down to defense. We're still not as good as we need to be defensively," he added.
King had 23 points to lead Alab, which recovered from a 98-95 loss in their first tuneup with the national team.
On the other hand, Gilas still saw encouraging efforts from Pogoy (14 points), Aguilar (12) and June Mar Fajardo (12) even if it missed Greg Slaughter and Troy Rosario to hand injuries.
"We're playing it day-by-day. His thumb is still not movable at this point," Cone said of Slaughter's injury. "But as opposed to like Jayson (Castro) -- who doesn't know our system and if he came back a day before the tournament and started playing, it would be difficult -- Greg, he knows everything that we do anyway. It's really just a matter of him staying in shape ... and then when he's ready, he'll just step right in seamlessly.
"The one I'm concerned with is Troy. Troy's had an Achilles problem, now he has a finger problem. We need to get him on the floor so we can get used to playing with him. He's one of the guys that we are really looking to rely on, to give us the versatility that we need to play."
Managing depth better should help compensate for the wear-and-tear that the tough PBA schedule has brought on everyone, but Cone acknowledged that it's also an area where he and the rest of the coaching could do better down the line.
"We weren't able to use our depth today, I thought, and we're gonna have to learn how to use our depth. I'm gonna have to learn how to do better with our depth," he admitted. "We're always gonna be deeper than other teams. I always tell the guys, 'The guy you're coming in for, you're just as good. When the guy is coming in for you, he's just as good as you.' That means that we should be 12, 13 deep at this point."
Cone even pointed out how they weren't able to squeeze more from Kiefer Ravena, who hit the floor with Gilas for the first time and scored only 2 points, as well as other primary options in Fajardo, Pogoy and Stanley Pringle (2 points).
"Kiefer never had a practice with us. He just stepped in and played and he played down the stretch for us and he made plays. That's just Kiefer," explained Cone. "We would like to set up some things for him, but we didn't do any single-highs. We didn't do anything that took advantage of people's skills.
"We didn't get the ball to June Mar in places we needed to get him the ball. We didn't take advantage of Stanley Pringle in single high, used his skills there. We didn't set RR up for certain 3s that we knew he could knock down, even though he got a bunch of 3s. So we're not taking advantage of our skills right now, we're just running the motion offense and keeping everybody involved."
Cone, though, thinks that these can all be sorted out, especially given how Gilas' effort has continued to be on-point.
"But the good news is we battled. Guys were pulling for each other all the time. We were unselfish. We tried hard on defense, although we were disorganized. Those were all the positives that we wanna move forward on," he said.
"It's a step back, but I think it's a good step back that we have. We understand how hard this is gonna be. This is not gonna be easy. It's a good message for everybody. Hopefully this is one step back, two steps forward."
Gilas will continue to have twice-a-week sessions, although Thursdays are reserved solely for film sessions. No further tuneups have been scheduled, though, as the team's practice game with a Taiwan club next week has been cancelled.