MANILA – Not even the presence of President Rodrigo Duterte could provide enough spark for the underdog Gilas Pilipinas as it bowed to world’s No. 5 team France, 84-92, late Tuesday night at the start of the Manila FIBA qualifying tournament for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics.
France leaned on its two NBA veterans Tony Parker and Boris Diaw and Euro League Most Valuable Player Nando De Colo to stop the hard fighting Philippines team led by naturalized Andre Blatche.
The Filipinos had a blazing first quarter performance behind Blatche who spearheaded a 12-3 blast that give the Philippines a 17-10 lead.
Terrence Romeo hit back-to-back baskets including a fastbreak from pitch-ball pass from Junmar Fajardo to give the host team its biggest lead at 28-18.
France, however, rallied in the second half to grab the upperhand at 45-43 going into the lock room for the halftime break.
The France team pulled away in the third period to build their biggest lead at 69-59 as the Filipino players slowed down after Blatche twisted his right foot and got his fourth foul before the fourth period.
Taking inspiration from huge crowd that trooped at the MOA arena, the Philippines moved within four-point deficit behind Terrence Romeo and Jason Castro but France answered back with 6-0 blast to secure the win.
De Colo spearheaded France with 27 points while Parker added 21 points.
On the other hand, Romeo and Castro scored 19 and 14 points, respectively, for the Philippines while Blatche topscored with 21 points.
”There is an issue of underdog when you play a big team like France. Tony Parker took over the game and Boris Diaw showed a lot of experience. We did not executive well our game. We have to play well like a team,” Gilas coach Tab Baldwin said.
President Duterte made the ceremonial toss and draw loud applause and chanting from the capacity crowd.
The Philippines has to win its next game against New Zealand to make it into the cross-over semifinals, hoping to keep its bid to return to the Olympics since 1972.
In the first game, Canada played solid game to score a 77-66 victory against Turkey.
The winner of the tournament will earn ticket to the 2016 Rio Olympic Games in Brazil next month. Jelly Musico/PNA/northboundasia.com