The Philippine national men’s basketball team got their gold medal bid underway with an 85-76 victory over Group B qualifiers India in its first game in the 2014 Asian Games in Incheon, Korea.
With the win, Gilas Pilipinas formalized its entry into the quarterfinal round but can improve its position in their next preliminary round game against FIBA Asia Champions Iran on Thursday.
Naturalized player Marcus Douthit and sharpshooter Jeff Chan both led a balanced Philippine offensive with 14 points apiece. Douthit also had a game-high 10 rebounds.
Several other Filipinos finished in double figures with Gary David adding 13, June Mar Fajardo 12 and LA Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar chipping in with 10 apiece.
Gilas Pilipinas, fresh off a positive campaign in the 2014 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Spain where it beat Senegal and gave several European and South American teams a run for their money, got off to an auspicious start in this one after blazing their way to a 16-0 run.
Tenorio kicked things off with back-to-back three-pointers early before the Gilas defense began forcing turnovers that led to an easy opportunity for Marcus Douthit in the paint.
Chan, who scored 11 of his team-high output in the very first quarter, then fired away with eight straight points on a pair of triples and another jumper to make it 16 straight.
But India’s shooters finally found their touch with Pratham Singh and Vishesh Bhriguvanshi knocking down shots from the outside to lead a comeback.
Gilas Pilipinas finished the first quarter with an eight-point lead, 24-16.
In the second, the spotlight fell squarely on the Philippines’ second unit, led by international basketball rising star Fajardo and David.
The pair combined to score the first 17 Philippine points – nine from Fajardo and eight from David – in the second, including the first five in a 9-0 blast that restored the Filipinos’ lead to 45-28.
The Philippines led 50-37 at the halftime break.
Fajardo, the 24-year-old Gilas backup center, built on his emergence in the FIBA World Cup, leading the Filipinos with a huge 12-point, seven-rebound in the first half.
India tried to make its move in the third, going on a 7-2 run to come to as close as eight points.
But Douthit, in the lineup to replace the Philippines’ ineligible naturalized player Andray Blatche, scored six points and Tenorio had four in a 10-0 Gilas run that made it 62-44 for the Filipinos.
Douthit tapped into his offensive arsenal, knocking down a jumper, finishing on a big dunk and even tipping in a missed attempt from a teammate.
After four straight points from Amritpal Singh, Gabe Norwood hit a three-pointer and Japeth Aguilar finished in transition to give the Philippines a 19-point lead, 67-48, late in the third.
But the Indians, much like in their showing in the FIBA Asia Cup several weeks ago, would refuse to just lay down, battling back in the fourth.
Amjyot Singh and Palpreet Singh Brar led the charge, coming to within 12, 77-65, after some early baskets.
Gilas looked like it would put the game away after scoring seven consecutive points, including another three from Chan.
But India had another one coming, with Bhriguvanshi knocking down a three and Pratham knocking down two after getting fouled shooting from the outside. Amjyot then connected on two consecutive long range bombs before fouling out with 38.7 seconds remaining and India down by just eight, 84-76.
Gilas captain Jimmy Alapag, though, snapped the 11-0 run with a split from the free throw line and the India rally fell short.
The Philippines will have a break on Wednesday with Iran and India doing battle before the Group B rematch of the 2013 FIBA Asia Championships finalists on Thursday.