Host nation China will battle the Philippines for the 2015 FIBA Asia Championship title Saturday. Along with being crowned the regional champions, the winning side will qualify for the basketball tournament at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil.
It's Gilas Pilipinas' second consecutive appearance in the championship game. It lost to Iran, 85-71, two years ago. On the flip side, China is the event's most accomplished country, winning 15 titles overall and five of the past eight.
Let's check out all of the important information for Saturday's final, followed by a preview and prediction for the hyped matchup.
Where: Changsha Social Work College Gymnasium in Changsha, China
When: Saturday, Oct. 3, at 8:30 p.m. CST (8:30 a.m. EDT)
Live Stream: LiveBasketball.tv
Philippines head coach Tab Baldwin deserves a lot of credit. His team began its current journey in late August at the Toyota Four Nations Cup. Gilas Pilipinas started that event with a blowout loss to the Netherlands, which featured a quarter in which the Philippines was outscored 29-4.
Baldwin's players have made a lot of progress since that point. While there were some minor hiccups along the way, including a loss to Palestine in the FIBA Asia opener, the Philippines has elevated its form considerably and is deserving of its place in the final.
The championship game is a rematch of the third-place contest from the 2014 FIBA Asia Cup. The Philippines scored a narrow one-point victory in that contest, and another close result is likely Saturday.
One thing Baldwin doesn't want his players to worry about is China holding the home-court advantage. He made some strong remarks about the host fans following the semifinals, as noted by Marisse Panaligan of GMA News:
Let them come play in front of Philippine fans, there's the real fans. These are fake fans. They don't know the game of basketball and they just sit up there and cheer when they're told to cheer. They don't bother us at all. Noise is noise. What's that got to do with anything? Nothing. We're not interested in that.
While the coach isn't concerned about the atmosphere, his side will have to overcome the Chinese squad's size advantage. Ryan Songalia of Rappler provided some notable details about both sides, including the experience edge for the Philippines:
China has three impact players in the post. Yi Jianlian, who's averaging 17.4 points and eight rebounds per game, is the team's go-to player. Fellow 7-footers Wang Zhelin and Zhou Qi can also cause matchup problems down low.
That puts a lot of pressure on Andray Blatche. He's been instilled as one of the cornerstone members of the team for this reason. The Philippines has the perimeter talent to compete with anybody in Asia, but the former NBA center brings much-needed size to the lineup.
Blatche will likely need to match Yi's performance to give Gilas Pilipinas a chance. He's coming off a strong showing against Japan, with 22 points and 13 rebounds, so it's a reasonable task.
If he does that, the focus will shift to the likes of Terrence Romeo and Jayson Castro.
The guard tandem has provided the Philippines with consistent play in recent weeks, and both players are capable of taking over the game on the offensive end. They have combined to average 30.4 points and 4.9 threes in eight tournament games.
All told, the only surprising thing would be if this game isn't up for grabs in the fourth quarter. Both teams have played solid basketball in the knockout stages, and there isn't much to separate them. Clutch shooting will likely be the difference.
Though China has dominated at times, Gilas Pilipinas is ready for this opportunity. Baldwin has ensured the team's highs were never too high and its lows were never too low during a busy stretch of tournaments. He's kept his players levelheaded every step of the journey to prepare them for this moment.
Because of that, look for the Philippines to score a narrow victory to clinch its first Olympic berth in more than four decades (1972).
Prediction: Philippines wins 79-72.