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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Gilas Loses to Argentina 85-81

Games Today (Manila time: plus 6 hrs.) 7:30 p.m. – Philippines vs Puerto Rico 11:30 p.m. – Senegal vs Argentina

Don’t cry for Gilas Pilipinas, Argentina. The Nationals never had any illusions the world No. 3 would be easy pickings.
Still what mind-boggling feat it would have been had Andray Blatche knocked down that late corner 3-point shot. Or Jayson Castro not chooses the most inappropriate time to pull up from 3-point territory rather than drive.
But Blatche didn’t and Castro did and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to rock the international basketball order in the 2014 FIBA World Cup was forever lost Monday as Argentina dodged the upset bullet, 85-81, before thousands of screaming, bobbing, chanting, pumping, war-painted fans almost equally divided at the Palacio Municipal de Deportes San Pablo here.
While football is the sport worshipped at the altar in the South American country, basketball isn’t lagging too far behind.
And against the FIBA Asia silver medal winner, the Argentineans kept the faith and tenaciously hung on in the midst of a buffeting storm.
But the 2004 Olympic gold medalist, with six Summer Games appearances, 13 FIBA World Cups, 16 FIBA Americas Championships and 14 Pan American Games to its resume as a cage power, did behold Philippine basketball at its mighty best: taking a 10-point lead in the first quarter with Blatche on the bench with two fouls, Rain or Shine’s Gabe Norwood posterizing the Indiana Pacers’ Luis Scola with a rim-bending dunk, June Mar Fajardo nimbly circling around the defense inside the paint, Ranidel de Ocampo bedeviling with clutch 3-pointers.

And Jimmy Alapag!
The 5-foot-9 point guard of the Talk ’N Text Tropang Texters, who announced earlier that this would be his last international tournament, was on fire and delivered perhaps the game of his life, keeping an entire nation on the edge as he carried the torch for Gilas Pilipinas by burying five 3-point shots in the second half, three coming in the fourth quarter with the fifth, so far off with 2:08 remaining, cutting down Argentina’s lead to 82-81.
Until that point, the Philippines had its hands wrapped around the ultimate prize – a victory over an Olympic champion. But then slowly it slipped through the fingers.
Amazingly, Alapag never got to launch another 3.
An Argentine miss gave the Nationals possession. But Blatche, who got whistled for two fouls barely there minutes into the game, clanged an open but unnecessary 3-point attempt on the near left corner.
Andres Nocioni, seasoned by NBA stints with the Chicago Bulls, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings, left the door open by splitting his free throws with 42 seconds remaining.
The Gilas Pilipinas shot clock was down to 6 when the ball hit an Argentinean foot and time was reset to 14, bringing them extra precious seconds.
National coach Chot Reyes called time and drew a play for Alapag to come off a screen and get the ball with the fate of the Philippines rightfully placed in his hands.
But Norwood had some trouble inbounding, barely managing to get it to Jayson Castro after Alapag, in what Reyes said was a brilliant move by Argentina coach Julio Lamas to bring back the speedy Facundo Campazzo, failed to shake off the defense.
With time running out and Alapag now barred from the equation, Castro, who had hit three 3-pointers earlier, two of them back-to-back to ignite a roaring Gilas Pilipinas comeback from 15 points in the third quarter, took it upon himself to go head-to-head with the New York Knicks’ Pablo Prigioni.
Castro rose with Prigioni on him. But in a fleeting moment of indecision Castro didn’t launch, putting the ball on the floor instead and then picking it up – a clear traveling violation.
The whistle blew and Nocioni went to the foul line for the second time inside the final 42 seconds; this time he made both, ending an experience for Gilas Pilipinas that was even more exhilarating than the opening game against Croatia which went into overtime.

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