CHANGSHA, China – In the realm of sense, Gilas Pilipinas is just three wins away from earning a ticket to the Olympic Games for the first time in 43 years.
But it's not as easy as it sounds.
On a five-game winning streak highlighted by a rousing victory over defending champion Iran, the Philippines goes to the Fiba Asia knockout rounds brimming with confidence but at the same time wary of dropping its guard after losing its debut game against unranked Palestine.
That's the approach the Filipinos will take when they pay a do-or-die match on Thursday night against Lebanon, a team which Gilas coach Tab Baldwin warned is capable of playing a ‘good game.’
“This is a team that can have really good games. We’re gonna have to really play well, I think, to beat this team and progress,” said Baldwin on the eve of the knockout phase of the meet that is now down to its final eight teams.
The Gilas-Lebanon duel is set at 9:30 p.m. at the Changsha Social Work Colleges gym here.
Reigning champion Iran opens hostilities in the quarters when it takes on South Korea at 2:30 p.m., followed by the encounter between Japan and Qatar at 4:45 p.m.
Host China then battles India in a 7:30 p.m. game at primetime pitting two of the world’s most populous countries.
Lebanon was not expected to make the Final Eight party until the last minute when it upended Jordan, 80-76, to clinch the fourth and last berth in Group F.
Baldwin and deputies Alex Compton, Jong Uichico, Josh Reyes, and Norman Black stayed behind after Gilas’ 99-65 pounding of India to watch the win-or-go-home encounter between the Lebanese and Jordanians, and the Gilas mentor admitted being impressed by their upcoming opponent handled by former Iran mentor Vesilin Matic.
“I thought what they did was they shot the ball really well,” said Baldwin after the game. “We know they’re a good transition team, we know they have good overall size even though they aren’t a big team, and they battle hard.
“Lebanese teams always battle (hard).”
Survivor of the Gilas-Lebanon game will meet the winner of the Qatar-Japan pairing in the semifinals on Friday.
Again, Baldwin doesn’t like the idea of thinking ahead and looking past the Lebanese.
“It’s the only step that matters right now, coz we can’t play in the semifinals without winning the quarters,” he said. “So everything is targeted on this game.”