A STAR-STUDDED France side survived a giant scare from a gritty Gilas Pilipinas side, 93-84, on Tuesday night in the opener of the 2016 Olympic Qualifying Tournament that was a lot closer than most fans expected.
France, at No. 5 in the world ranked 23 rungs higher than the hosts, fell behind by 10 points in the first half and didn't secure the win until the final two minutes of a game witnessed by a sellout crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena led by no less than President Duterte.
Gilas doggedly kept France within sight through three quarters and made its biggest run in the final five minutes, closing within four points, 81-85, on a Gabe Norwood follow-up with 3:15 to go.
But the French kept their composure under extreme pressure, scoring eight straight points through veteran Boris Diaw, Euroleague MVP Nando de Colo, and Kim Tillie to put a fighting Gilas side away for good, 93-81.
“France is one of those teams that don’t panic. And they shouldn’t panic with the players that they have. They just continue to pound away on us by going to their strengths,” said Gilas coach Tab Baldwin in the post-game interview.
By strength, Baldwin meant the French backcourt of Parker and De Colo, who led the team with 21 and 27 points, respectively. Parker, the four-time NBA champion from San Antonio Spurs, went 3 of 7 from three-point range.
“The real strength of the French team is their guards when you see Parker and De Colo get 48 (points) between them is such a high percentage,” said the 58-year-old Gilas coach.
Parker was 7 of 13 from the floor while De Colo was 9 of 14.
The French found themselves trailing early on, 30-20, as Gilas made most of its shots early in the first half.
But Parker and De Colo stabilized the team with their steady plays, and in no time France already regained the lead and sat on a 45-43 lead at the break.
Gilas played catch-up from there the rest of the way.
“Once we lost the lead, we started searching for answers,” Baldwin admitted later.
Andray Blatche finished with 21 points and eight rebounds, while Terrence Romeo added 19 for Gilas. But the two also accounted for eight of the team’s 18 total turnovers.
“We have to take care of the ball because we have a lot of turnovers,” said Jayson Castro, who scored 14 markers. “We lost our composure and started to turn the ball over.”
France (93) – De Colo 27, Parker 21, Tillie 10, Lauvergne 10, Diaw 9, Gelabale 8, Diot 4, Heurtel 2, Kahudi 2, Pietrus 0, Moerman 0.
Philippines (84)– Blatche 21, Romeo 19, Castro 14, Chan 9, Rosario 6, Norwood 4, De Ocampo 3, Reyes 3, Parks 3, Pingris 2, Fajardo 0.
Quarterscores: 22-30; 45-43; 77-66; 93-84