Wael Arakji demonstrated why he is Asia’s best point guard, sinking a dagger corner 3-pointer in the final seconds to lift Lebanon to an 85-81 victory over Gilas Pilipinas in the 2023 FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in Beirut.
In the fourth period, the game was back and forth, with Gilas even surging ahead 75-71 after trailing by five. But the Cedars came through with the game’s final run, capped by Arakji’s 3 off a Kai Sotto block, putting them up 83-78 with 16 seconds left.
“We knew it was going to be a difficult game,” Gilas coach Chot Reyes said. “It was going to be difficult because we were playing at home against the No. 2 team in Asia from the FIBA-Asia Cup. As a result, we anticipated that it would be a significant challenge and battle for us. But I’m very proud of how our team performed. We fought, and we fought hard, and we competed.”
Cedars coach Jad El Hajj agreed: “To be honest, it was a very difficult game. As you can see, the Philippines made six 3-pointers, which is above their average. They average 12 to 15 points per game. We had control of the game after 15 minutes and were fortunate at the end to win.”
Here are four observations about the game:
The King Cedar is Arakji
Arakji, the FIBA Asia Cup MVP from last month, overcame a slow start to take over at the end. Despite the fact that his shot was not falling, he finished with 24 points (he made just 6 of 17 attempts). He found other ways to score, getting to the line frequently and hitting 10 of 11 free throws, the last two of which sealed the victory and prompted him to do Steph Curry’s “night, night” move.
Scottie Thompson, the reigning PBA MVP, was his primary defender, and while Thompson had some early success, Arakji eventually willed his team to victory. He then delivered a chilling message to Gilas: “When you’re in my town, you follow my rules.”
Those turnovers, once again
Gilas got off to a fast start, taking an early 19-9 lead. While they shot 48% from the field to Lebanon’s 36%, the Cedars had 15 more opportunities because Gilas had another error-filled game and turned the ball over 21 times. Many were the result of inattention and poor ball-handling. The Cedars took advantage, outscoring opponents 22-13 in points off turnovers.
“The 21 turnovers were really the difference in this game, and that’s just because we’re not as familiar with each other as we’d like to be,” Reyes explained. “We should be able to address that if we get some more time and practice together.”
“I think we competed well,” said Jordan Clarkson, who led Gilas with 27 points. “Coach had done an excellent job of preparing us to scout this team. Coming in, we had a great game plan. When you have 20 or more turnovers in a game like this, it’s difficult to win, especially with the home crowd cheering you on.”
“We suffered at first,” El Hajj explained. “It took us about 10 to 15 minutes to figure out what kind of game Jordan was playing. Our strength is allowing the opponent to make mistakes.”
Dwight, Jordan, and Kai
Jordan Clarkson led Gilas in points and minutes played, but faded late in the game. FIBA
Clarkson was on the field for 37 minutes, including the entire second half. He displayed his NBA pedigree several times, particularly in the first half. He also contributed to the playmaking with seven assists. But he only had five points in the fourth quarter, three of which came on free throws in the final 12 seconds, as the Cedars did a good job of keeping the ball out of his hands.
Dwight Ramos had a fantastic all-around game with 18 points, 10 rebounds, and six steals, demonstrating what Gilas missed in the FIBA Asia Cup. Meanwhile, Sotto had a strong game, scoring 10 points and grabbing eight rebounds while providing Gilas with much-needed rim protection. He was officially credited with two blocks, but there are no statistics to show how many shots he changed. Cedars big man Ali Haidar, on the other hand, had his way with the much thinner Sotto down low at times, easily pushing him out of the way to get buckets.
“It’s just bright for us,” Clarkson said. “We’re still putting together this team. We have some promising young players on the team. Dwight performed admirably tonight. Kai performed admirably. Overall, I believe it was a commendable effort. We had a good chance of winning the game. I missed a shot near the end of the game that I normally make. Tonight was just a tough one.”
What comes next?
Gilas will face Saudi Arabia in front of a large crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena on Monday. The Saudis are 3-3 in qualifiers, including a 30-point defeat to Lebanon last month. They also defeated Indonesia, winning 69-67 on July 1. However, they performed better against New Zealand on Thursday, losing by 15 points.
“We just have to take it on the chin and start over,” Clarkson said. “We’re returning to Manila. Saudi Arabia is on its way. We just have to be ready for it and try to win at home.”
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