THE Philippines found the worthy challenge it had been looking for since the start, but it didn’t take long to witness the finish that everyone expected all along.
Gilas Pilipinas turned what the visitors were hoping to be a dogfight into a cakewalk as it outclassed Indonesia, 97-64, on Thursday night to complete a sweep of the Southeast Asian Basketball Association (Seaba) Championship in front of a huge crowd at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The Filipino dribblers saw the Indonesians put up an early fight, but quickly switched to another gear behind Andray Blatche and their zone-busters to zoom to a sizeable lead that they maintained throughout the game on the way to cementing their status as the rulers of regional basketball.
“I felt Jimmy put it well when he said that it’s very rare to play for a championship in front of the home crowd – regardless if it was Seaba or Fiba Asia,” national coach Chot Reyes said, referring to former Gilas captain and current assistant coach Jimmy Alapag. “Jimmy said to relish the opportunity.”
“We knew we were going to be tested, but I felt we were ready,” he added.
By winning all their six games in dominant fashion, the Nationals captured a second straight Seaba title and eighth overall to formalize their entry to the Fiba Asia Cup in August as well as the Asian qualifiers for the 2019 World Cup starting November.
Blatche proved he remains the best man for the job as naturalized player as he thrived inside and out, knocking down four triples for a game-high 21 points and 10 boards in just 20 minutes to lead the Filipino dribblers.
Jayson Castro saved his best for last as he orchestrated the offense with aplomb, adding 14 points, seven boards, and five assists, while June Mar Fajardo chipped in 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting, four boards, and two blocks as the reigning MVP conspired with Blatche in taking the fight inside.
When the Indonesians shifted to a zone, the Filipinos turned to their snipers as Matthew Wright, Terrence Romeo, Jiovani Jalalon, Castro, and Blatche connected from long range to keep frustrating their Asean rivals.
Calvin Abueva chipped in five points, eight boards, one steal, one chasedown block that wasn’t recorded as it came shortly after the halftime buzzer, and his boundless energy that lifted Gilas all throughout the tournament.
Still, the Indonesians appeared to give the Filipino the worthiest challenge among the entire opposition, holding them to their smallest margin of victory after coming in with an average gap of 63.8 points in their first five games. The Philippines also didn’t reach triple-digit scoring for the first time in the tournament.
PHILIPPINES 97 – Blatche 21, Castro William 14, Fajardo 13, Wright 9, Rosario 9, Aguilar 6, Jalalon 6, Romeo 6, Pogoy 5, Abueva 5, Malicsi 3, Almazan 0
INDONESIA 64 – Wisnu 11, Wuysang 10, Setipu 8, Grahita 8, Pratama 8, Kurniawan 7, Sitorus 4, Johnson 4, Nugroho 2, Dhyaksa 2, Lakudu 0
Quarterscores: 34-14, 51-30, 78-47, 97-64