(Mall of Asia Arena)
6:30 p.m. – Senegal vs Turkey
7 p.m. – New Zealand vs France
Down by 10, Parker & Co. showed why they’re world No. 5.
An hour of reckoning with Tony Parker and France looms for Gilas Pilipinas, but only if the Nationals got past New Zealand late last night.
If the Kiwis are done away with, then the Philippines most likely will face Canada from Group A in the semifinals of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. If not, then it’s goodbye for the country’s bid to return to the Olympic stage since 1972 in Munich.
And the blame game and second-guessing start once more in earnest.
Tuesday night belonged to Parker and the French team, however, as they composed demeanor and precision bursts of fire underscored why they are the world’s No. 5 cage power, according to FIBA’s latest rankings.
But Gilas was right there until the final three minutes when a successful tip-in here and a defensive rebound there could have altered the outcome to some degree.
Gilas Pilipinas showed heart as it went up against heavy favorite France, but experience and depth proved the determining factor for the French as it handed the home squad a 93-84 defeat at the start of the Manila OQT at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.
In front of a sellout crowd in predominant white, the national team gave everything it got against France, staying within striking distance in the closing minutes after losing a 10-point first half lead.
Down by as many as 13 points late in the third quarter, the national team rallied behind the chants of “Puso!” and “Defense!” by the 23,000-plus spectators, led by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Gilas naturalized center Andray Blatche teamed up with guards Jayson Castro and Terrence Romeo in that final frame push. A followup accidentally tapped in by a French player but credited to Gabe Norwood trimmed the deficit to 85-81 with 3:15 left in the game.
But France tightened its defense in the final stretch, denying Blatche the ball and forcing others to take the shots.
On offense, France scored eight straight points to seal the win.
“It was a highly comapetitive game,” said Gilas mentor Tab Baldwin. “We felt we needed to get a good start. There’s always an issue how big an underdog we are against a team that is a big as stature as France.”
He added: “I think Tony Parker took over midway in the second quarter, he and (Boris) Diaw really controlled the game.”
Blatche led the national team with 21 points while adding eight rebounds and three steals. Romeo came off the bench with 19 points. Jayson Castro contributed 14 points.
Nando de Colo, a former NBA player, led France with 27 points off his torrid outside touch, while Parker, a onetime Finals MVP with the four-time NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, had 21 points.
Joffrey Lauvergne and Kim Tillie contributed 10 points apiece for France, which converted 36-of-67 shots from the field (54%) as compared to Gilas’ 29-of-70 (41%) with 11 three-point shots.
“I want to congratulate the Philippines,” said the 6-foot-2 Parker, apparently impressed. “They had a great game. You can be proud; they made it tough on us.”
Blatche, who now plays in China after stints with the Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets in the NBA, hurt his left ankle when he accidentally stepped on the foot of De Colo with 6:38 left in the third quarter.
He willed himself back in the game with a limp.
France, a former EuroBasket champion back in 2013, took control of that third quarter as a Parker jumper put his team ahead, 71-58, a little less than three minutes to play in the period.
The home team started strong behind Blatche’s 14 points in the first quarter, converting 4-of-6 from the field and a perfect 4-of-4 from the foul line. He started his scoring with a breakaway tomahawk dunk off a turnover pass by Parker intended for Diaw.
With the score tied at 7-all, ace gunner Jeff Chan drained a three-point shot that ignited 21-11 run, giving the national team a 28-18 advantage with 1:07 left.
In that blitzkrieg, Blatche scored seven points, Ray Parks completed a three-point play and Romeo had six points, including the last five points – a triple and a layup – that capped that run by the Philippines.
The first frame ended with the Filipinos leading the French squad, 30-22.
France came charging back in the second quarter as Parker joined hands with De Colo. A 9-0 run by Les Blues – with Parker scoring seven points – gave them a 46-44 lead late in the period.
FRANCE 93 – De Colo 27, Parker 21, Tillie 10, Lauvergne 10, Diaw 9, Gelabale 8, Diot 4, Heurtel 2, Kahudi 2, Pietrus 0, Moerman 0.
PHILIPPINES 84 – Blatche 21, Romeo 19, Castro 14, Chan 9, Rosario 6, Norwood 4, De Ocampo 3, Reyes 3, Parks 3, Pingris 2, Fajardo 0.
Quarters: 22-30; 45-43; 77-66; 93-84.