A HOT-SHOOTING Chinese-Taipei broke the heart of a nation when it fought back in the final quarter to deal Gilas Pilipinas an 84-79 defeat on Saturday at the end of their group-stage campaign of the Fiba-Asia men's basketball championships.
The Taiwanese went on a 9-2 closing run to complete a brave fightback from a 13-point deficit at the end of the third quarter that stunned a mammoth crowd of 19,638 fans inside the Mall of Asia Arena - and millions more of home fans watching from their homes.
“Allow me to apologize to our countrymen in Taiwan. I would have wanted to win this game for them,” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes, referring to the thousands of overseas workers in the island nation.
The win enabled the Taiwanese to complete a sweep of their three matches in the group stage and relegated the home team to second place with a 2-1 (win-loss) record entering the second round of the eliminations where the two, along with Jordan, will join Qatar, Hong Kong, and Japan in one bracket.
The impact of the defeat, however, may be felt by Gilas down the road in the quarterfinals, where the nationals hope to avoid early clashes with heavyweights Iran, China, and South Korea.
The nationals self-destructed in the payoff period as the Taiwanese came storming back behind the hot shooting hands of Cheng Ju-lu in a game that became more than just a basketball match owing to the diplomatic tension between the two nations.
The Taiwanese comeback came just after the Nationals, riding on the hot hands of super-sub Larry Fonacier, opened as much as a 13-point lead in a game of wildly changing fortunes.
Fonacier had a lot to do with that, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the third quarter while going 4-of-4 from beyond the three-point arc. His long jumper opened a 68-55 lead for Gilas, triggering celebrations inside the Pasay venue which turned out to be premature.
But Reyes opted to go with a lineup made up of Gary David, Jeff Chan, Japeth Aguilar, and Marc Pingris to start the fourth at a time when Chinese-Taipei suddenly found its second wind from the outside behind the hot hands of Cheng.
The veteran forward paced the Taiwanese with 22 points on 6-of-9 shooting from three-point zone in rallying the team back from the depths of defeat.
The prolific Chinese-Taipei power forward went 5-of-6 from three-point range in the final quarter, the last of which proved to be the dagger on Gilas’ side as the visitors jumped off to an 81-77 lead with 1:27 to go.
Lin Chih-chieh added 20, Lei Tien had 18, and Tseng Weng-ting – he with the pony-tail hair – had 16 including a three-pointer off the glass entering the final two minutes that put the visitors on top for good, 78-77.
“We never gave up,” said Chinese-Taipei coach Hsu Chin-che.
In all, the Taiwanese were just too hot to handle from the three-point zone as they went 15-of-30 for a high 50 percent shooting. They also had more assists, 23-12, but committed more turnovers, 16-6.
Douthit had a double-double for Gilas with 16 and 10 rebounds, while Ranidel de Ocampo and Jayson Castro William were the others to hit double figures for the team with 13 and 11, respectively.
The Taiwanese shot 86 percent from beyond the arc in the first quarter on 6-of-7 shooting for an early 12-point lead. Back-to-back three-pointers by Tien and Lin Chih-chieh made it 26-15 before the visitors settled for 30-19 edge at the end of the period.
The nationals trailed by as much as 12 points, 6-18, early on but Larry Fonacier, Jimmy Alapag, Gabe Norwood, and Marcus Douthit put together a game-changing 22-8 second quarter run as Gilas came charging back and grabbed the upperhand 41-38.
Douthit capped the scoring barrage with a two-handed slam off Tseng Weng-ting at the 2:11 mark, sending the animated crowd into a wild frenzy.
Lei Tien tied the game at 41-all with the last of Chinese-Taipei’s nine three-pointers in the first half.
But Quincy Davis was called for his third personal foul simultaneously with Tien’s three-point shot, resulting in two free throws by Douthit to give Gilas a 43-41 lead.
Taipei (84) - Lu 22, Lin 20, Tien 18, Tseng 16, Davis 6, Yang 2, Lee 0, Chien 0, Chou 0, Tsai 0, Creighton 0.
Gilas Pilipinas (79) - Fonacier 21, Douthit 16, De Ocampo 13, William 11, Alapag 9, Norwood 9, Tenorio 0, Chan 0, David 0, Aguilar 0, Pingris 0.
Quarterscores: 30-19, 42-43, 55-68, 84-79.