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Gilas Pilipinas suffers tough loss against world number five Serbia, 83-76

Despite the gallant effort by Gilas Pilipinas, Serbia staved off the late comeback by securing their second win in the 2021 Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Belgrade, Serbia, 83-76. Dallas Mavericks center Boban Marjanovic was phenomenal in using his brute strength and towering size as he led the way with 25 points and 10 rebounds. Ognjen Dobric chipped in with 16 markers, 13 of them coming in the first half, while ex-LA Clipper Milos Teodosic added 13 points, 4 boards, and 6 assists. 

Despite the lost cause, Angelo Kouame had arguably his best game in a Gilas Pilipinas uniform, tallying 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. Jordan Heading and Justine Baltazar provided ample floor spacing by converting six of the nine three-pointers made by the Philippines. Kai Sotto was the only other Filipino in double figures with 10 points despite his subpar 23 percent shooting from the field.

Keeping in step

With Dwight Ramos’ sidelined due to a groin injury, coach Tab Baldwin decided to start the twin tower combination of Sotto and Kouame, with Heading, SJ Belangel and William Navarro completing the starting lineup. Right from the onset, Gilas played a zone defense with their two giants manning the paint. However, Serbia made them pay with three successive shots from behind the arc that helped them build a 13-4 lead. Dobric was the catalyst of that run with two long-range bombs. 

Baldwin adjusted by inserting Baltazar into the ballgame, as he nailed a three-pointer which was followed by a trifecta from Kouame that sliced the deficit to three. Gilas was able to keep pace and absorb the initial blow by the Serbs. It was a nip-and-tuck end to the period, as Serbia increased their lead to six points, 22-16. 

As the second quarter began, Serbia’s guards applied more pressure to the backcourt of the Philippines, as it caused a delay in setting up their offensive schemes. Isaac Go converted a putback in the first possession, but Serbia went on a 10-0 run to widen the gap to 14 points, 32-18. The second unit of Gilas Pilipinas failed to neutralize the spurt of the Serbs because of their impeccable ball movement and stifling defense. Baldwin reinserted his main men with Heading leading the charge, as he made two triple conversions. 

Marjanovic imposed his will on the paint with deep seals right at the rim that resulted in easy baskets. He finished with 11 points and five rebounds in the first half on five out of six shooting. Teodosic and Dobric were also key contributors in building an 11-point cushion entering the half.  

Showing puso

After cruising to an 11-point lead at the end of the first half, the Serbs opened up the third quarter with sublime execution. Dobric completed a dunk after cutting from the baseline to receive an alley-oop pass from Stefan Jovic. Marjanovic continued to impact the game at both ends by converting a steal and three straight layups, extending the lead to 16 points, 56-40. 

As Serbia’s lead grew, the Philippines turned to RJ Abarrientos and Kouame to initiate the team’s offensive flow. Abarrientos’ top-of-the-arc three over Marjanovic followed by Kouame’s spur of defensive stops and points in the paint, managed to thwart the surging Serbs. With a minute and a half to go in the third quarter, Gilas went on a mini-run to pull them within striking distance. Heading continued to showcase his stellar outside shooting by hitting another three, accompanied by Sotto’s floater that cut the Gilas deficit to five points, 67-62, to end the third period. 

Gilas continued to showcase their desire to win the ball game in the fourth quarter.  Baldwin’s bench players proved to be useful during key moments as Carl Tamayo’s three and Mike Nieto’s jump shot allowed the Philippines to tie the game at the nine-minute mark. 

Serbia regained a six-point lead through flawless execution right after the deadlock. And yet, the Philippines simply refused to quit. After consecutive defensive stops, Heading’s three and Abarrientos’ speeding layup gave Gilas a one-point advantage with less than four minutes left to play. After a brief lead lost by Serbia, the team’s maturity showed when it mattered, as they continued to use Marjanovic’s towering inside presence to end the game. Boban’s final fadeaway hookshot extended the lead and eventually iced the game, giving Serbia an 83-76 victory over the Philippines. 

Ranked as the fifth-best team in the world, Serbia entered the match as the highly favored team after defeating the Dominican Republic by 18 points. Although Serbia’s squad was filled with professional experience, Gilas’ youthful team continued to execute their gritty style of play, fighting back from numerous setbacks. 

Despite his team’s stellar performance, Baldwin acknowledged that they could have done better, “We [had] chances late, but we missed some open looks.” After today’s tough result, the squad looks to bounce back and overcome another challenge ahead. “We have to make a quick turnaround [against the Dominican Republic], but it’s not going to be easy,” Baldwin shared. 

The Philippines will resume their quest for an Olympic berth against the Dominican Republic tomorrow, July 2, at 2:30 am. 

The scores:

Gilas 76 – Kouame 17, Heading 13, Baltazar 10, Sotto 10, Abarrientos 9, Tamayo 5, Go 4, Navarro 4, Belangel 2, Nieto 2

Serbia 83 – Marjanovic 25, Dobric 16, Teodosic 13, Andjusic 12, Petrusev 8, Davidovac 5, Jovic 2, Milosavljevic 2

Quarter scores: 16-22, 34-45, 62-67, 76-83

By Diego Vergel de Dios

By Miguel Robles

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