Gilas Pilipinas completed a two-game sweep of their Middle East road trip with a 76-63 win over Saudi Arabia in the fifth window of the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian qualifiers on Sunday evening at the King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.
Just like in their win over Jordan, Gilas took control in the second half -- extending a six-point halftime lead to ten after three quarters behind the hot shooting of RR Pogoy.
The Saudis kept hanging around, cutting the lead to eight with a little over two minutes left, but Scottie Thompson had a crucial steal and two free throws to seal the win.
Pogoy and Dwight Ramos both had 13 points for Gilas, while Kai Sotto added 11. Gilas improved to 5-3 in Group E, while Saudi Arabia formally bowed out after falling to 2-6.
Gilas will host Lebanon on Feb. 25 and Jordan on Feb. 28 in the 6th and final window. Judging by the number of Filipinos in the stadium, though, this certainly felt like a home game for Gilas.
"I think we got a lot of energy from the crowd," Gilas coach Chot Reyes said. "They gave us a huge boost, they just wouldn't allow us to lose until we hit our stride and finally hit some shots in the second half. We were able to use our defense, essentially, to pull off the victory."
Here, we take a closer look at the result and performance with three things that stood out.
Scottie is ready
In 2019, Scottie Thompson declined a spot on the Gilas team to the FIBA World Cup, claiming he wasn't ready yet for international competition. Not a few thought his reason strange, since he had proven himself in the Asian qualifiers.
Fast forward three years later, and Thompson is now a newly-minted PBA Most Valuable Player with a Finals MVP to boot. And yes, he's also ready for the world now.
After his 8-13-8 stat line against Jordan, 'Iskati' (his local nickname) had a 9-9-3 against Saudi Arabia. But his heads-up play on back-to-back Gilas possessions late in the game stood out.
After the hosts threatened at 69-61 behind two triples from Mathna Almarwani (who has one of the strangest yet effective shooting forms ever), Ray Parks missed a triple. Hazim Bader A Aljohar secured the rebound, but Thompson snuck from behind to steal the ball. Aljohar fouled him, and Scottie made both free throws to give Gilas some breathing room. Then after an empty Saudi Arabia possession, Thompson connected with Kai Sotto for an alley-oop slam that all but sealed it.
The TNT RR shows up
Filipino basketball fans sometimes get frustrated with RR Pogoy.
When he plays for TNT, he's a lights-out shooter. In the ongoing PBA Commissioner's Cup, he's averaging 18.8 points on a phenomenal 45.8% shooting from beyond the arc. That hot touch, though, hasn't always translated into success in the international arena.
In his three previous Gilas games, he had failed to sink a single three-point shot, missing all five of his attempts. But against Saudi Arabia, he finally found the mark, burying three triples, including back-to-back ones in the third quarter that helped Gilas pull away. In the second quarter, he nailed his patented turnaround jumper after backing down his defender.
Hopefully Pogoy continues to have the hot hand in the sixth window and the World Cup itself.
A little déjà vu, but not really
The first time these two sides met, Gilas also got off to a slow start, scoring just 11 points in the first quarter before pulling away for a 38-point win. There was another slow start this time, with the score tied at 16 after one quarter, but while Gilas eventually imposed its will on the game, there would be no blowout.
"I think in the first half we were too excited," Thompson noted. "We had a lot of turnovers. Good thing we got to recover in the second half."
But this wasn't the same Saudi Arabia team that got shellshocked by Jordan Clarkson in Manila. They had a different game plan. They also had a new coach.
"They came in with a very good game plan," Reyes said. "We expected it. We knew the high quality of this team, so we had mentally prepared ourselves to struggle especially coming from a very tough game in Jordan and a tough trip. But luckily we stayed patient through our early struggles."
The man behind the game plan was Dutchman Johan Roijakkers, who was appointed head coach exactly a month before the game.
"It's not easy," Roijakkers noted. "We just got thrown together here. Basically at the camp is the first time we met."
Despite the short training camp, the coach was pleased with their effort, adding: "I have to give my players a huge compliment. If you look to where we came from in the Philippines in the game where we lost by 38 points, coming in with a foreign coach, having seven practices, and then just competing.
"We were competing there for 40 minutes. In the first minutes of the second half I thought we were a little bit not under control on both sides of the floor. But great job from my players. It's amazing how they're picking up stuff."