CHANGSHA, China - Gilas Pilipinas held its ground in the face of a brave stand by Lebanon to pull off a 82-70 win on Thursday night and reach the semifinals of the Fiba Asia Championships at the Changsha Social World Colleges gymnasium.
Jayson Castro scored 25 points while Andray Blatche had 24 points and 17 rebounds in a sixth successive win that enabled Gilas to set up a semifinal showdown with underdog Japan on Friday night.
Defending champion Iran and host China face off in the other semifinal.
Longtime national Marc Pingris also played big in the endgame, scoring six crucial points that helped created separation for Gilas in front of a crowd that cheered for the underdog Lebanese.
Gilas finally made the decisive breakaway late in the fourth quarter, when Blatche made two free throws and a difficult jumper and Romeo a hangtime jumper to complete a 6-0 run for a 69-59 lead with 4:04 left.
The last of Castro's five three-pointers gave Gilas a 74-62 lead with 2:13 left.
Blatche later admitted the win was Gilas’ way of responding to Lebanon coach Vesilin Matic’s statement on the eve of the match that with no Iran, it’s going to be ‘easy, easy’ against the Philippines.
“Yeah, I think it fired all of us. We took it as a sign of disrespect,” said Blatche, who clapped his hand and shouted ‘easy, easy’ just as he passed by the Lebanon bench when coach Tab Baldwin finally took him out with the outcome of the game already in the bag.
“We worked hard to get where we’re at. We didn’t plain say it’s going to be easy. So for a coach to say playing us is going to be plain easy is a big sign of disrespect.”
Calvin Abueva also psyched-up himself for the game upon hearing Matic’s comments.
“Naging focus na ako, determined na agad ako sa laro,” he said.
Castro had 12 points right in the first quarter for Gilas, which opened an early nine-point lead in the first half but couldn't shake off a Lebanese side that struggled in the preliminaries yet obviously peaked at the right time.
Lebanon no longer had longtime star Fadi Al-Khatib, but what it had was a tall, well-balanced side led by naturalized player Jasmon Youngblood that shot well from inside and out to keep Gilas within range.
At the half, Blatche already had 13 points and nine rebounds, yet all Gilas had was a five-point lead, 37-32.
GILAS 82 - Castro 25, Blatche 24, Romeo 10, Pingris 8, Abueva 7, Norwood 5, De Ocampo 3, Ganuelas 0, Thoss 0, Hontiveros 0
LEBANON 70 - Haidar 18, Bawji 17, Youngblood 12, ABD El Nour 8, Arakji 8, Saoud 7, Aby Kheres 0, Ibrahim 0, Souaid 0, Akl 0, Tabet 0, El Ayoubi 0
Quarterscores: 20-16; 37-32; 57-49; 82-70