Gilas Pilipinas' campaign in the 2022 FIBA Asia Cup in Jakarta has mercifully come to an end after they absorbed a 102-81 beating at the hands of Japan on Tuesday night.
In a game they needed to win to stay alive in the tournament, Gilas instead lost by its largest deficit in the tournament as they fell behind by double digits in the first quarter (which was a familiar refrain for them) and never recovered.
The loss dropped Philippines out of the top eight in the FIBA Asia Cup for the first time since 2007, when a PBA-reinforced team -- curiously also coached by Chot Reyes -- finished 9th. It was also Philippines' first loss to Japan in the FIBA Asia Cup (and its previous incarnations) in 19 years.
"Obviously the result is not what we wanted and again we're very sorry that we have disappointed a lot of our countrymen," Reyes said. "Like I said, we brought a very young team here and the experience is just going to make them better to be able to be exposed the kind of intensity and level here at the Asia Cup. There is not one player here who has ever been to the Asia Cup."
With plenty to analyze from Gilas' premature exit, here are three thoughts from the defeat to Japan.
Defense leads to turnovers
Japan's half-court defense caused all sorts of issues for Gilas' ball-handlers. Two defenders would quickly double the ball carrier and either force a turnover or disrupt the offense. Gilas had 17 turnovers, which Japan converted into 23 points.
"I think that was a really important game for us," Japan coach Tom Hovasse said. We needed a test like that. Philippines is a very good team, and they pushed us. They didn't give up."
"Very little to say," Reyes said. "Japan came out with their game plan. Credit to them. They forced us into 17 turnovers. That's the ballgame. That big deficit in the first quarter was a big problem."
Team captain Kiefer Ravena lamented another slow start, which saw Gilas fall behind 32-16 after the first quarter.
"Again, this is the second game in a row where the game was lost in the first quarter. Japan scored on every turnover that we had. They had 23 points. It was a big deficit for us."
Gilas actually had a bit of momentum towards the end of the third quarter and early in the fourth after Ravena scored five straight points to cut Japan's lead to 12. But that was the closest they would get. The Akatsuki Five played like the more desperate team, putting the game away with a 22-6 run that just completely knocked the wind out of Gilas' sails. Only a 10-0 run by the bench mob made the final score a little more respectable.
It is hard for a limited Gilas team like this one to win if their better players like Thirdy Ravena and Carl Tamayo struggle. Ravena shot 1-of-7 and finished with just two points, while Tamayo, who at times in this tournament played at a level beyond his 21 years, was hampered by foul trouble and played just 16 minutes.
Watanabe leaves with an injury
Yuta Watanabe, the game's only legitimate NBA player, flashed his pedigree in the 19 minutes that he was on the floor. No Gilas defender could stop him one-on-one, and he was a terror to guard in the open court.
Unfortunately he did not finish the game after he sprained his ankle following a hard nudge from Will Navarro on a fast-break play. The Toronto Raptors forward had 15 points and nine boards before leaving for good at the 7:00 mark of the third period. Gilas, though, couldn't capitalize as the Akatsuki Five matched their intensity and thwarted every run.
The injury was emblematic of the game's level of physicality, which wasn't lost on Hovasse.
"Once Yuta Watanabe went down with an injury, I felt like we really came together and played really physical, strong basketball," he said.
"It's unfortunate that he got hurt. It was a very physical game. Not sure if that's the way everything should be played, but we responded to the way it was being called, and the only way to respond to a game like that is by being physical. It was a very good win for us I think we took a step forward today as a team.
"In games like this, I even got pretty heated. You have to match Philippines' intensity. You can't lose to it. It just kept getting higher and higher and higher. The players did a very good job keeping their emotions in check."
Watanabe's availability for Japan's quarterfinal game against Australia is questionable according to Hovasse, as he added: "We don't know if he's going to be able to play. But it's his second sprain in the last month."
What's next for Gilas?
In a break from the usual tournament format, the teams that finished outside the quarterfinals will no longer play any more classification games. That means this is it for Gilas in Jakarta.
We'll see them again in the second round of the World Cup qualifiers in August, when they travel to Lebanon to take on the Cedars on Aug. 25 before hosting Saudi Arabia at home on Aug. 29.
The PBA Philippine Cup will have entered its homestretch by the time the August window rolls around, so some PBA players might be available (and judging from these results, the team could definitely use some of them). Reyes, however, was tight-lipped about all of it.
"First of all, (we have) to give these guys rest and time to recover," he explained.
"We already have a plan for the next window. I can't divulge it here, but we already put a plan together up to August of next year. We're already operating under difficult circumstances and a lot of restrictions but we're making do with what we have.
"At the end that's all we can do, is to take what's front of us with what we have and just continue plugging away. Hopefully we continue to develop."