GILAS Pilipinas lost 71-81 to home side Estonia, which coach Chot Reyes described as essential to the overall development of the FIBA World Cup-bound Filipinos.
Groping for form early but displaying fighting heart in the first friendly of its European camp Tuesday night in Tallinn, Gilas fought back hard after trailing by 22 but faded in the end.
“Like I said in the dugout, I was very impressed, I was very happy with our first game considering this is June Mar’s (Fajardo) first game in six months and Japeth’s (Aguilar) first game in four months,” Mr. Reyes said in an update posted by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas.
Estonia, which was represented by younger players from its men’s team, opened the game held at the Kalevi Sports Hall with nine unanswered points en route to a 41-19 lead.
The Estonians held a 49-35 lead at the break before Gilas cut it to 64-59 after three and threatened further at 66-63 midway through the fourth. But with Justin Brownlee forced to the bench on cramps, the Filipinos failed to complete the fightback.
“For us to continue to battle — we were down 20 and still we showed a lot of fight, putting ourselves within a basket, we were three points down in the middle of the fourth, and we played the fourth without Justin Brownlee who had suffered cramps already by that time,” said Mr. Reyes.
“So (it’s a) good first step (and I’m) very, very happy. Going into this ballgame, we know we still have a long way to go, still a lot of work to be done because this is a work in progress, so (I) can’t ask for more.”
Dwight Ramos showed the way with 16 for Gilas, which played with only 11 players with Scottie Thompson nursing back spasms. Mr. Brownlee, who entered the camp just two days before the game, finished with eight in 19 minutes as Thirdy Ravena shot nine and Mr. Fajardo hauled down nine boards.
“I thought we didn’t play good defense in the first half but in the second half we tightened up a lot more and that allowed us to get back and stay in the game,” Mr. Reyes said.
The Nationals were undone by 23 turnovers, which Estonia converted into 21 easy points.
Mr. Reyes’ troops had little time for rest and recovery with a tough duel against fellow World Cup team Finland in the cards Wednesday night.
“The good news is it was a good first step. The bad news is tomorrow’s game is going to be five or ten times tougher than today’s game,” Mr. Reyes said.
“So again, we’ll see how we respond and how we react tomorrow. Like I said, that’s the reason why we’re here. This is the time that we make our mistakes, that we adjust and we grow and we develop resilience as a team.” — Olmin Leyba