CHANGSHA, China – Andray Blatche couldn’t have best epitomized Gilas Pilipinas’ popular ‘puso’ battle cry any better.
The naturalized big man shook off a hurting ankle and came through with a brave performance to tow the Philippines to a 73-66 win over Japan at the start of its second-round preliminary campaign in the Fiba Asia Men’s Championship.
Blatche finished with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds despite limping off the floor after rolling his ankle with still two full quarters and change left in a close, fiercely fought match.
And despite his injury, the former NBA stalwart vowed to play in Gilas’ crucial game against Iran on Monday morning.
“I’ll be fine by tomorrow. I’m gonna bounce back stronger than ever. I’ll be good,” he assured Manila-based sportswriters after the game.
Asked about Blatche's injury, Gilas coach Tab Baldwin was less optimistic as he said: 'It's not the end of the world. He'll be evaluated tomorrow."
“We just have to continue competing. We’ll get ready for Iran tomorrow. Our focus is Iran.”
Blatche scored 10 points in the fourth quarter alone as he kept Gilas afloat against a resilient Japanese side that refused to roll over and die.
His tip-in off his own missed shot with 52 seconds left gave the team a 71-66 cushion that proved enoug to survive Japan’s last-ditch stand.
“When we got the lead, we just keep pushing and not look backward,” said Blatche as Gilas fell behind by as many as 29-19 the moment he went out with a sprained ankle in the second quarter.
But behind Jason Castro, Ranidel de Ocampo, and Terrence Romeo, the Filipinos rallied back and took the lead at the half, 35-33.