In a game primarily used as a trial run for roster combinations and the World Cup hosting, the Philippines played its most unselfish and assertive game and found spectacular results.
Playing small because of absences of a number of big men, Gilas Pilipinas used a great collective effort on both ends to pick Lebanon apart, 107-96, in the International Basketball Federation World Cup Asian Qualifiers at Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan.
Justin Brownlee finally played his first game as a Filipino and Mason Amos answered all the questions surrounding his inclusion in spades as the duo spearheaded the Gilas attack.
Brownlee, naturalized a couple of months ago, had 17 points while the 18-year-old Amos added 13 to lead a balanced attack that impressed both national coach Chot Reyes and Cedars mentor Jad El Hajj.
“We spoke about it a lot, knowing we had a few missing pieces and that we’re not as individually talented as the previous lineups,” said Reyes.
“I said in situations like this, the best way to address it is to come together and lean on each other. And I’m very glad that the players took that to heart. And I think you saw that today—players were playing for each other, running for each other, it didn’t matter who scored as long as the ball was moving very well.”
“This is special because we were undersized. It was only June Mar and the kid [Amos] as our big men,” Brownlee said on national television. “It’s been a long journey here [to get to play for Gilas] and I will continue to play my heart out.”
The Lebanon coach had no qualms expressing his admiration of the team that conquered them.
“They played as a team. They had more than 20 assists,” El Hajj pointed out, as the Filipinos actually dished out 31. “The last time, they played as individuals, but tonight they played as a team, so they deserved to win.”
Jamie Malonzo finished with 15 points while Japan campaigners Dwight Ramos, Ray Parks Jr., and returning gunner Jordan Heading all chipped in 10 that had the Nationals rising to 6-3 and with great momentum heading into a showdown with Jordan on Monday.
Without top gun Wael Arajki and Ali Haidar, Lebanon leaned on veteran Amir Saoud’s 27, Hayk Gyokchyan’s 21 points, and Sergio El Darwich’s 19. Karim Zeinoun added 14 more as the Cedars dropped to 7-2.
It turned out to be a fitting holiday for the spectators who trooped to the cavernous arena as new World Cup ambassador Carmelo Anthony made a visit and watched the game till the final buzzer.
But Reyes, cautious as ever, knows that this is just one of the many games Gilas could win—and use—as it continues building for the global showcase here set in August.
“Like I said I’m very, very happy with that result, but we also know that this is [just one game,” he said.
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