JUST two weeks ago, Gilas Pilipinas edged out Kazakhstan, 92-89, in a game that served as mere tune-up for both teams as they geared for battle in the 27th Fiba-Asia Championship.
Now the two squads' paths have crossed again in a match that meant a new lease on life to the winner and outright death to the loser.
The nationals face an injured-plagued Kazakhs side on Friday night in one of four knockout playoffs slated at the Mall of Asia Arena for a berth in the Final Four of the World Basketball Championship qualifier.
The Gilas-Kazakhstan encounter is set at 8:30 p.m. preceding the Korea-Qatar showdown at 10:30 p.m.
Two-time champion and Group F top finisher Iran kicks off the playoffs at 3 p.m. against Jordan, followed by the battle between Chinese-Taipei and defending champion China two hours later.
The tune-up match with Kazakhstan may have given Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes a glimpse of how the Central Asian country plays under Italian counterpart Matteo Boniciolli.
But he was quick to stress the quarterfinals is a different story altogether.
“It was a big help, but right now, that tune-up doesn’t mean a thing,” said Reyes, whose quarterfinal stint already surpassed his previous finish as Fiba-Asia coach of ninth place during the 2007 edition of the tournament in Tokushima, Japan.
“I’m sure both teams had forgotten that already. It’s a brand-new game on Friday. We just have to be ready.”
Winner of the Gilas-Kazakhstan match up faces the survivor of the Korea-Qatar duel in the semis, while the victor in the Iran-Jordan clash arranges a battle with whoever wins in the China-Chinese Taipei tiff.
Reyes however, doesn’t want to get too far ahead of himself at the moment.
“I’ve kept my vision only at the task at hand without really looking far ahead,” he said.
The Kazakhs got off to a rousing start in the two-week tournament with a three-game sweep of their first-round assignments in Group D. But they ended the preliminaries by losing all of their three games in the second round to finish as the No. 4 team in Group F with a 2-3 (win-loss) record.
Worst, the injury bug hit key players of the team going to the knockout phase, including naturalized player and starting point guard Jerry Johnson, shooter Konstantin Dvirnyy, and big man Mikhail Yevstigneyev.
In contrast, Gilas Pilipinas swept all its three assignments in the second round, and coupled by a huge Qatar 71-68 victory over Chinese Taipei, emerged as the top team in Group E after knocking out the Qataris and Taiwanese for the No. 1 slot via a higher quotient.
The Philippines, Qatar, and Taipei finished the preliminaries all with similar 4-1 records.
This will also be the third straight quarterfinal stint for the country in the Fiba-Asia since 2009.
But despite the basketball Gods smiling on his team going into the most crucial stage of the meet, Reyes still believes Gilas Pilipinas has to be at its best to beat Kazakhstan and advance to the semis.
“Whether it’s Kazakhstan or whatever team, it’s going to take our best on Friday to win that game,” he said. “Our approach hasn’t changed. We still have to be at our best on Friday.”