We played this game to prepare for [Angola], but this is not the World Cup.”
Thus declared national coach Chot Reyes on Friday night, shortly after Gilas Pilipinas’ 85-62 rout of Ivory Coast that had the Nationals winning the first of its final three tuneup matches geared towards the World Cup.
“That’s how hard Angola plays defense. They really pressure the basketball. Their guards attack the rim. They have strong, powerful big men. They’re very long and athletic, but I think the difference is that Angola has much better outside shooters than this Ivory Coast team,” he added in a dispatch released by the national federation on Saturday.
That, stacked upon his charges’ error-riddled play behind the closed doors of Philsports Arena in Pasig City prevented him from celebrating the win.
“[There are] still some kinks in the offense. We had 18 turnovers and that’s something we have to address,” he said.
But it’s not like Reyes was trying to be hard to please.
“We take solace in the fact that at least we got one game under our belts where we got those three,” referring to the trio of Jordan Clarkson, Kai Sotto and Scottie Thompson. “As you saw, (Jordan) had a couple of turnovers, but that’s going to improve in the next two games.”
“I like the way Scottie moved. You can see that Kai was a big factor. Although he’s still not a hundred percent back from his back problems, he gives us just that much-needed depth in the frontline.”
Leading the way
Clarkson led the way with 13 points, tying June Mar Fajardo, the six-time PBA Most Valuable Player who has been the steadiest member of the training squad. Sotto was just as commendable, finishing twin digits scores alongside AJ Edu. Thompson, meanwhile, showed no ill effects of his previously fractured hand with 11 points, four rebounds and five assists.
Clarkson, Sotto and Thompson were the last members of the talent pool to join the training and with all of them back with just five days until the big dance, Reyes is hoping Gilas can finally smoothen whatever cracks that remain in their game.
They can do just that at 8 p.m. this Sunday against Montenegro in another closed-door friendly that will pit the Nationals against a taller squad reinforced with NBA talent.
“Montenegro—that’s a very different team. Stronger. European style. [Nikola] Vucevic is there, a bonafide NBA starter for his team and some others,” Reyes said. “We’re in for a battle, but we’ll see. We’re looking to play better than we did today.”
Crank things upGilas wraps up its preparations when it takes on Mexico on Monday. But even if the Nationals completed a sweep of its last three tune-up matches, they would still need to crank things up once it battles the World No. 23 Dominican Republic on the World Cup’s opening night Friday next week.
The Dominicans are looking an even more ferocious lot after stunning No. 15 Canada on Saturday, 94-88, in Karl-Anthony Town’s debut with the men’s team. The NBA star finished with 20 points built on 6-for-9 shooting that had the Carribeans winning their first preparatory game.
Gilas is also bunched with World No. 10 Italians who have been perfect thus far in their preparatory games. INQ
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