Puerto Rico stormed back to edge the Philippines, 77-73, to pick up its first win at the 2014 FIBA World Cup. It marks the third single-digit defeat in four games for the losing side.
Gilas Pilipinas has been the feel-good story of the tournament. The team arrived to Spain as a massive underdog, expected to get eliminated without making much of an impact. Instead, the group has been more competitive than even its own supporters probably expected.
After pushing Croatia to overtime in their opener, they kept it close against Greece and had Argentina on upset alert until the final buzzer sounded. Led by naturalized addition Andray Blatche, they have played like a team that belongs on the big stage.
There was some concern about Blatche after the narrow loss to Argentina. He was dealing with a knee injury, but downplayed the issue, as noted by Rodneil Quiteles of Rappler.
"The knee is better. Got some treatment down. It's not as painful, it actually feels okay," he said. "I feel better. Last night I was a little down at the beginning, disappointed with myself. I felt like I could've done more to help the team win."
He drew the start on Wednesday and helped the Philippines rush out to a 25-13 lead after the first quarter. The team made all seven of its shots from inside the arc during the period while Puerto Rico struggled to find a rhythm on the offensive end.
Dennis Gasgonia of ABS-CBN News illustrated the crowd support for the Pinoy squad:
Pinoy crowd getting crazy here. pic.twitter.com/0RePQUP44M— Dennis Gasgonia (@dggasgo) September 3, 2014
The Puerto Ricans fought back in the second quarter thanks in large part to Minnesota Timberwolves guard J.J. Barea. He was all over the court trying to provide a spark to a team that certainly needed one after a sluggish start.
It worked. They outscored the Philippines by seven in the second quarter to cut the lead to five at halftime.
Hart Ang of the Fast Break Press noted Barea was doing it all:
JJ Barea is leading PUR in points, rebounds AND assists. This team is asleep, take advantage. #GilasPilipinas— Hart Ang (@hartang_fbpress) September 3, 2014
Blatche led all scorers with 15 points at the break and TJ Manotoc of ABS-CBN News provided more halftime numbers:
Gilas ends half shooting an amazing 53% FG, PR only 39% FG, but they're 40% from three (6-15). Turnovers Gilas 10, PR 8 REB: PH 17 - PR 12— TJ Manotoc (@tjmanotoc) September 3, 2014
The flow that existed in the first half disappeared in the third quarter. Both teams were sloppy on the offensive end.
LA Tenorio tried to get the Philippines going with a couple nice drives to the basket that drew fouls, but the team went ice cold from the field. It missed all seven of its shots from beyond the arc and Alex Franklin was terrific cleaning up the boards for Puerto Rico.
Late in the period, the Puerto Ricans were finally able to capitalize on Gilas Pilipinas' shooting woes to go on a spurt that gave them their first lead since the opening quarter. They led by four at the end of the third, highlighted by a late trey from Barea, as Basketball TV pointed out:
Just when things were starting to slip away from the Philippines, the three-ball returned to get them back on top. Blatche and Tenorio both hit from beyond the arc shortly after the halfway point of the fourth quarter to put Gilas Pilipinas back up by three at 70-67.
Barea was at it again, however, answering right back to level the score with two minutes to play. Yahoo Philippines noted the clutch shot:
Barea with a cold-blooded 3. Ties it up at 70 with 2:07 left.— Yahoo Philippines (@YahooPH) September 3, 2014
After the Philippines missed a three, it grabbed an offensive rebound but Blatche turned the ball over before it could get off another shot. At the other end, Barea made them pay by beating the defense for a layup to put his side back on top.
Ranidel de Ocampo had a look at three to cause another lead change, but missed and the foul parade began. Gilas Pilipinas was never able to get back level as it let another extremely close game slip through its fingers at the end.
They deserve credit for another strong effort, but Barea was simply too much in crunch time.
Sports Desk Live passed along the final score:
Looking ahead, both teams finish pool play on Thursday. Puerto Rico may still have an opportunity to advance to the knockout rounds depending on the results of the other contests in Group B. It faces Croatia in the pool finale.
The Philippines will finish with a clash against Senegal. Though Gilas Pilipinas is likely to serve as the underdogs again, it would probably be tough to find a neutral fan rooting against the team. They have played too well to finish 0-5, which would be their record should they lose tomorrow.