Lebanon coach on Jordan Clarkson
And despite the 27-point performance from the Utah Jazz gunner, the mentor is elated with the defensive stance that players like Karim Zeinoun and Ali Mansour had against the Fil-Am swingman.
"Even if Jordan scored 27, that doesn't take away the fact that they played pretty well. They did an amazing job, many times they didn't let him receive the ball and this is amazing," said El Hajj on the heels of the Cedars' 85-81 escape from Gilas Pilipinas early Friday morning in the 2023 Fiba World Cup Asian qualifiers.
For El Hajj, it's the best defense that Lebanon could put up against Clarkson who was playing his first game as the designated naturalized player for the Philippines.
And he's glad that he had Zeinoun, who finished with seven points, four rebounds, two assists, and two steals, and Mansour, who ended up with three points, two boards, and three steals off the bench, to make like hard for Gilas' main man in the absence of mainstay Sergio El Darwich.
"Honestly we prepared before with Karim Zeinoun. Even if Sergio is playing, you know that Sergio could not play 40 minutes and he can cannot defend Clarkson for 40 minutes. So we prepared them before to play short minutes and Karim stepped up to the plate. I think Karim played like 25 minutes which is great. He gave his best, he used his fouls. Karim, as we all know, is a great defender and one more time, he proved this," he said.
"Ali is always ready. I know Ali many years ago and Ali is one of the best defenders and always gives his heart on court, especially when he's in front of a full house."
This, however, didn't mean that things were easy for Lebanon.
El Hajj admitted that it took time for the Cedars to figure Clarkson out, noting, "We suffered at the beginning. It took us 10 to 15 minutes to understand what kind of game Jordan plays."
Clarkson was at his best early on, dropping 18 first-half points to lead the Philippines.
Cohesion, however, bit Gilas in the back as it committed nine turnovers in the second period alone and finished with 21 miscues all in all, which only worked in favor of the home team.
In contrast, Lebanon played disciplined basketball all-game long, losing the ball only nine times while displaying tremendous composure behind leader Wael Arakji.
"Our strong point is to let the opponent make turnovers so they did at the beginning," said El Hajj, while also lauding his side's 35 bench points.
"We had 35 and that means we have amazing players, amazing bench. We can play any 12 players at any game. We tried to build a team that can play any day, at any night, and have the same performance. This is what we did today."