Gilas Pilipinas' Marc Pingris and Croatia's Dario Saric go for the ball in day 1 of the FIBA World Cup in Spain on Saturday. The Philippines lost in overtime, 81-78. Photo courtesy of www.fiba.com
SEVILLE, Spain (1st UPDATE) -- A gritty Gilas Pilipinas squad nearly pulled off an upset against highly favored Croatia, pushing the 16th-ranked squad to the brink before falling short in the end game at the FIBA World Cup of Basketball on Saturday.
The Philippine national team led by 3 against the accurate-shooting Croatians going into the final minutes of regulation, but the Croats forced the game into overtime and closed out Gilas, 81-78.
The Filipinos had a jittery start after the Croats used fluid ball movement and near-perfect sniping to surge ahead 23-9 in the first stanza.
But Gilas started to build momentum in the second quarter when Andray Blatche showed his court smarts against Croatia's big men, while Jeffrei Chan found his touch from the outside and even scored a buzzer-beater to cut the deficit to 6 points, 31-37, at the half.
Croatia, led by NBA-bound Boljan Bogdanovic, held fort in the early part of the third canto until Blatche's 5 straight points and Jayson Castro's triple pulled Gilas within 49-52 near the end of the quarter.
A back-and-forth between the two squads had Croatia leading 64-59, but Gilas unloaded an 8-2 run, capped by Chan's three free throws, to nab the lead, 67-66, 2:49 to go.
Blatche's floater hiked the Filipinos' advantage to three, 69-66.
Knunoslav Simon and Dario Saric strung successive plays to push Croatia ahead, 71-69, but Castro knotted the scores 71-all towards the end of regulation.
The two squads fought a close game during the extension, but Croatia nailed most of their free throws and gained the upper hand with less than a minute left.
Castro went for a final heave before the buzzer, but missed.
Blatche had 28 points for Gilas, while Chan added 17.
Bogdanovic led Croatia's balanced scoring with 26 points.
Gilas pool members Beau Belga and Jay Washington were elated with the way the team played.
"Talagang experienced lang talaga ang Croatia, lumaban naman ang 'Pinas eh. Matibay ang puso," said the Rain or Shine center.
"Mas magiging confident ka para sa upcoming games, mas maganda pa ang lalaruin nila."
"It was great game man, I'm really proud of those guys," said Washington. "It was a little shaky in the beginning, I was a little worried but it was amazing how they got into their flow and really competed out there."
Gilas' performance also impressed the Filipino crowd, some of whom flew in from various countries just to cheer their basketball heroes.
"I think we stunned the world, Philippine basketball has a lot to offer. Not only puso (heart) but also skill," said Eric Espano.
"We did not expect a lot but we saw that until the last few seconds, we were there," said Aries Batuhan. "So we have a chance in the next four games."
"It's a very, very good game," said Maxine David, who hails from the US. "They worked really, really hard."
The game marked the Philippines' return to the world championships, 36 years after it last competed in the 1978 FIBA Worlds. -- with reports from TJ Manotoc, ABS-CBN News