Jayson Castro and the rest of Gilas Pilipinas national team finally solved Iran’s puzzle with a decisive 87-73 win on Monday for their second win in second-round action of the 28th FIBA Asia Championship Olympic Qualifying tournament at the Changsha Social Work College’s gymnasium in Changsha, China.
This is the first time in recent memory that the Philippines has been able to beat Iran in a FIBA Asia Championship game, and they did it in dazzling fashion.
Behind the sublime play of Castro and naturalized reinforcement Andray Blatche, the Filipinos erased Iran’s myth of invincibility and pulled the defending champs back to earth.
The big win also erased their bitter loss to the Palestinian side (73-75) during opening day last week.
The victory kept the Philippine team unbeaten in Group E and registered an overall 4-1 win-loss record in the tournament.
The Iranians, on the other hand, suffered their first loss after winning their first four assignments with an average margin of 49 points.
They suddenly found themselves in a must-win situation against Palestine today lest they risk tumbling even further down the standings.
If the Iranians lose, they may yet finish as the third place team going to the next round.
Blatche outplayed Hamed Haddadi in this one, putting up 18 points, 7 rebounds, 4 steals and 2 blocks.
A couple of players also gave Gilas Pilipinas a big lift off the bench as Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva combined to score 28 points.
Samad Nikkhah Bahrami was the best Iranian player on the floor, scoring 21 points, while Mahdi Kamrani and Sajjad Mashayekhi each tallied 11.
Haddadi finished with 10 points and 7 rebounds but he fouled out in the final frame.
Iran had a better start to the contest, leading after one quarter and at the halftime break.
But it unraveled amid a searing second half surge by the Philippines, who turned the tables on its more fancied foes.
But Gilas Pilipinas coach Tab Baldwin refused to celebrate yet, saying it is still a long way to go to qualify for next year’s Rio Olympics.
“The job is partly done and we did a pretty good job. It was a success,” Baldwin told The Manila Times via overseas call a few hours after the game. “Jayson [Castro] played his best game in this tournament and we’re all happy to see it. We need a lot of that.”
“We need to play consistently and it’s still a long way to go for us. We still need to work harder.”
Castro sizzled with a game-high 26 points on 11-of-18 shooting in the field in addition to his three assists and three steals.
Asia’s best point guard also tallied 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a three-point shot at the opening mark of the last frame for Gilas Pilipinas’ 68-60 lead.
Castro, who plays for Talk ‘N Text in the Philippine Basketball Association, stole the ball and scored with a lay-up during a fast-break play that provided Gilas Pilipinas a safe 82-70 cushion with only 1:37 left in the game.
The Filipinos were never threatened from thereon.
Despite playing with two fouls early in the game, naturalized Filipino center Andray Blatche stood his ground against 7’2 Haddadi, a former National Basketball Association player who played for the Phoenix Suns.
Blatche, who played for the Washington Wizards and the Brooklyn Nets, finished with 18 points, seven rebounds, four steals and two blocks in 26 minutes of play.
He suffered a minor ankle injury on Sunday during the early part of the Japan game.
He managed to return and lead the Filipinos to a 73-66 win over the Japanese.
“Our medical team was successful yesterday [Sunday] when they treated Blatche’s ankle.
The swelling was lessened, but I don’t think the pain is completely gone,” Baldwin said. “Blatche just really wanted to play for the country.”
Flashy guard Romeo overcame a sluggish first half by scoring eight of his 15 points on 3-of-5 shooting beyond the arc in the third period.
He nailed back-to-back triples and scored with a lay-up to give the Filipinos a 60-57 lead in the third period.
Besides Castro and Romeo, the all-around effort and hustle of Calvin Abueva was valuable
enough to deny the Iranians a clean record in the tournament.
Alaska’s Romeo posted 13 points and six rebounds plus a steal.
“It’s not only Abueva. It is Abueva, [Jean Marc] Pingris, Ranidel [De Ocampo] and Gabe Norwood who contributed valuable minutes. Their performance was very critical because they outhustled well their opponents,” Baldwin said. “Their effort was very important.”
De Ocampo contributed five points and 10 rebounds plus one steal and a block.
After trailing by 37-43 at halftime, Gilas outscored the Iranians in the third frame (28-17) and fourth period (22-13) to seize the advantage in the second half.
The Filipinos played well in the defensive end, forcing the Iranians to 16 turnovers.
They had 12 steals and five blocks compared to Iranians’ five steals and one block.
Although the Iranians shot accurately than the Filipinos in the three-point zone (11-9), Gilas Pilipinas shot better than its opponent overall in the field (46.8 – 40.3 percent).
The Filipinos were awarded 30 free throws and made 20 points from there.
The Iranians only had 15 free throw attempts but only converted eight points.
Gilas Pilipinas also ruled the rebounding department, 40-39.
Mohammadsamad Nik Khanbahrami led Iran with 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting in the three-point zone, while Haddadi had 10 points and seven rebounds before fouling out in the game.
The Philippines will face India today (Tuesday) at 2:30 p.m. for its third game in the second round. With Fiba.com