Montenegro teaches Gilas Pilipinas a lesson on what happens after the slightest letdown

A lot will be riding on June Mar Fajardo (No. 15) and the Gilas Pilipinas bigs. —FIBA

A lot will be riding on June Mar Fajardo (No. 15) and the Gilas Pilipinas bigs. —FIBA

A few days before the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup kicks off, Chot Reyes and Gilas Pilipinas got a feel of what competition in the tournament would feel like.

“This game really made us feel that we’re here, we’re in the World Cup,” Reyes said after the Philippines dropped a 102-87 match against World No. 18 Montenegro late Sunday. “The kind of team we’re playing—they’ve been with a team for a long time, with great talent and everything else: Smooth system offensively and defensively.”

The Montenegrins’ victory halted a three-game winning run of Gilas Pilipinas heading into the World Cup that kicks off on Friday, but Reyes said there was so much to take from the game as the team prepares to battle against some of the world’s best squads.

“I like how we competed with them the entire first half. We just had a letdown defensively in that third quarter and … that’s why we play those games—to know what else we can improve on,” Reyes said in a dispatch released by the national federation on Monday.

The two teams were neck and neck for the first two periods at PhilSports Arena until a third-quarter Montenegro fightback led by Chicago Bulls center Nikola Vucevic and naturalized guard Kendrick Perry.

And that is one lesson Reyes is hoping was seared in the minds of his charges.

“When we started the third quarter with three straight turnovers and then [Montenegro made] … an 8-0 run, that turned the tide,” he pointed out.

“When we give good, quality teams like Montenegro momentum, a lead like that is going to be very, very hard to recover. Just a brief letdown and you see what happens,” he added.

More contributions

Jordan Clarkson led the way with 27 points, June Mar Fajardo chipped in 19 and Dwight Ramos 13, but their performances alone didn’t help Gilas extend the winning streak they started putting together during a pocket tournament in China.

And they will need more than the trio’s contributions against tall and athletic teams like Group A foes the Dominican Republic and Italy, which is why Reyes is hoping that he could get production from his entire squad.

“Our bigs really have their work cut out [for themselves],” he said. “They have to work on penetration, they have to protect the rim and still be able to come out, close out on their men—the bigs—when they’re shooting from the outside.”

“But it’s not totally their responsibility, their teammates have to be able to help as well and rotate to be able to shut those guys down,” he added.

Gilas had one more chance to apply tweaks in an in-game setting through a friendly against No. 31 Mexico, a side that boasts speed, explosiveness and a bevy of shooting threats.

The 12 Guerreros are coming off wins over Egypt and Lebanon—one of Gilas’ rivals for the lone Olympic Games berth for Asian teams. INQ

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