CHANGSHA-HUNAN: Unbeaten hosts China meet streaking Philippines in the Final of the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship to dispute the continent’s lone outright berth in the 2016 Olympics.
China fell out of the top four two years ago when the tournament was held in Manila, but they have looked much stronger here, winning all eight of their games so far.
The Philippines, meanwhile, were the goats early on after losing to Palestine, but have not lost since.
These two countries split their last two meetings, with Philippines beating China in the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup and China returning the favor in the 2014 Asian Games.
China were so good that they made already-ousted champions Iran look ordinary in their Semi-Final encounter. China’s size and length bothered Iran so much that Team Melli shot just 28.6 percent from the field and had just two assists the entire game. Coach Gong Luming’s wards will probably have the same game plan against the Philippines, who are certainly smaller than the Iranians.
Guard play will be critical, though, as China’s pair of young playmakers – Guo Ailun and Zhao Jiwei – will surely be tested by The Blur himself, Jayson Castro.
If China can contain Castro and limit Andray Blatche’s production, then Team Dragon should be able to return to the pinnacle of Asian hoops without much worry.
In contrast to their earlier wins in the tournament, the Filipinos have looked shaky in their Quarter-Final and Semi-Final wins.
They’ve had trouble covering opposing perimeter shooters, and their offense has looked stagnant if not predictable way too often.
Against the mighty Chinese, Gilas Pilipinas will need much sharper execution and, frankly speaking, a helluva game from their stars.
If Castro, Blatche, and even sparkplugs like Terrence Romeo and Calvin Abueva can catch fire and keep in step with China, then anything can happen in the endgame. If there’s one potential edge for the Philippines, though, it’s at the point guard spot.
Both Castro and Romeo have the skills to put their defenders on the backfoot, and if they can do that consistently well, then an upset may be in the cards.
There is no mistaking that former NBA players Yi Jianlian and Andray Blatche are expected to figure in a momentous collision of talent. Both are huge, mobile, and versatile.
They have probably been the two best big men in the entire field, and it feels fitting that they will dispute the grandest prize of them all. Their difference is that Yi can afford a not-so-stellar outing, since he has more talent surrounding him than Blatche does. That doesn’t mean, however, that Yi can slack off. Far from it.
This is because if Blatche is allowed to have a monster game, that may just be enough for the Philippines to pull the rug from under the Chinese.