GILAS Pilipinas put its best foot forward when it mattered, putting on a masterclass in everything from outside marksmanship to defense in hammering Kazakhstan, 88-58, on Friday night and reaching the semifinals of the Fiba-Asia Men's Basketball Championship.
The Filipinos started the game on fire, scoring eight quick points to immediately put the Kazakhs on the back foot and never looking back to spark wild celebrations among the packed crowd inside the Mall of Asia Arena and all across the nation on a national holiday.
Except for a brief resistance by Kazakhstan in the middle quarters, the mismatch turned into a two-hour party for Gilas and its fans as the national team moved to a semifinal showdown with either South Korea and Qatar and earned not one but two shots at a spot in next year's world championships in Spain.
Although the semis stint already assured Gilas Pilipinas of equaling its fourth place finish during the 2011 edition of the tournament in Wuhan, China, national coach Chot Reyes was quick to remind everybody that the job is obviously not yet finished.
“We haven’t won anything yet. We haven’t done anything yet. All we’ve done was to get ourselves in a good position. Hopefully we can find a way to play even better tomorrow than tonight,” he said.
Gilas made sure there would be no such reversals as they pounced on the Kazakhs from the opening tip, never giving them any opportunity to find any rhythm on a night when everyone from Marcus Douthit to the much-maligned Gary David was clicking on all cylinders.
Struggling the entire tournament, the man known in local basketball as 'El Granada' couldn't have picked a better time to explode.
Averaging just 2.6 points going into the knockout quarterfinals, David poured a game-high 22 points as his hot hands from the outside had the national team dominating Kazakhstan big-time from start to finish.
“Kung naaalala ninyo `yung exhibition game sa Kazakhstan doon nagsimula `yung pangit kong laro, kaya tinapos ko lang ngayon,” said David. "Sana magtuluy-tuloy ito bukas."
David hit three straight three-pointers – and 4-of-6 overall - in the first quarter to set the tone for the lopsided win. Gilas settled for a 51-40 halftime lead as its three-point shooting kept them in the game against a highly-physical Kazakhstan side.
Jayson William added 13 points for Gilas, while Japeth Aguilar had 11 and nine rebounds in a good back-up performance as he took some minutes off from the hurting Marcus Douthit.
The naturalized player was held to just five points but grabbed 10 rebounds, and more importantly got a lot of rest in the endgame when the outcome was already beyond doubt.
Jimmy Alapag’s only basket for the night with 2:32 left in the game gave Gilas Pilipinas its biggest lead of the match, 88-57, to the delight of the 17,273 crowd clad mostly in white shirts.
Bu the nationals kept their cool and shot 50 percent from beyond the arc (8-of-16) as David and Jeff Chan found their range early on by combining for four three-pointers in the first quarter when the team raced to a commanding 32-13 lead.
David, who struggled in the preliminaries, was actually the one responsible for that, hitting three straight baskets from three-point range for that 19-point Gilas spread.
But the Kazakhs won’t give up without a fight.
The Central Asian nation crept its way back through Dmitriy Klimov and naturalized player Jerri Jonson, cutting down the lead to just 38-44 at the 2:13 mark of the second period on a basket by Anton Ponomarev.
Johnson, however, was whistled for his third foul just before the halftime and had to be recalled to the bench by coach Matteo Boniciolli. Japeth Aguilar hit the two corresponding free throws for a 51-38 lead.
Gilas Pilipinas (88) – David 22, William 13, Aguilar 11, Norwood 10, Chan 7, De Ocampo 6, Pingris 6, Douthit 5, Tenorio 3, Fonacier 3, Alapag 2, Fajardo 0,
Kazakhstan (58) – Klimov 14, Jonson 8, Dvirnyy 8, Yevstigneyev 6, Murzagaliyev 5, Lapchenko 5, Bondarovich 4, Zhigulin 3, Sultanov 3, Yargaliyev 2, Bazhkin 0.
Quarterscores: 32-15; 51-40; 67-49; 88-58.