The lack of familiarity and an emerging star in Wael Arakji became Gilas Pilipinas’ biggest problems when it suffered a sorry 81-85 loss to red-hot Lebanon in the fourth window of the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers at the Nouhad Nawfal Sports Complex in Beirut early Friday.
Gilas head coach Chot Reyes admitted that chemistry remains a major issue as they fell prey to Arakji and the Cedars to absorb their third loss in five outings of this tourney that serves as a gateway to the World Cup that will be held in the Philippines, Indonesia and Japan next year.
While Jordan Clarkson’s 27-point explosion was a big factor for the Philippines, Reyes rued Gilas’ 21 turnovers that cost them the victory.
Those numbers alone reflected the team’s lack of cohesion, something that they will need to address when they host Saudi Arabia on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Gilas, however, still saw positive notes with Dwight Ramos delivering 18 points and 10 rebounds, while Japeth Aguilar and Kai Sotto formed a formidable frontcourt tandem with 11 and 10 markers, respectively.
“We expected that it would be a big challenge, a big battle for us. We battled hard, unfortunately we had too many turnovers,” said Reyes, whose team composed of international campaigners, Gilas mainstays and Philippine Basketball Association stalwarts had less than two weeks of preparation.
“Those 21 turnovers were really a big difference to this ballgame and that’s just a result of us not yet familiar with each other as we would like to be.”
Playing against a Lebanese crew that has never lost in its past six home games, the Philippines sizzled with an early 17-7 lead and even limited Arakji — the Most Valuable Player of the FIBA Asia Cup — to only four points in the first quarter.
But Gilas started to turn the ball over and over again, allowing Lebanon to catch up before Clarkson nailed a buzzer-beating three-pointer to make it a 47-49 affair at the half.
Gilas’ aggression and fast-paced ball movement allowed Clarkson to lob a two-handed dunk to Sotto that squared the count at 71 with 6:59 left in the fourth.
The 7-foot-3 Sotto almost got the spotlight when he made a crucial block over bulky Ali Haidar, but the ball rolled into the hands of a wide-open Arakji, who fired a corner trey that put Gilas into a 78-83 hole with only 16.3 seconds left.
Arakji, who punctuated his masterful performance with a “night night” celebration in front of thousands of Lebanese supporters, finished with 24 points on 10-of-11 free throw shooting while sniper Amir Saoud provided extra support with 17 markers on three triples and four boards.
“We knew it’s going to be difficult because we’re playing the No.2 team in Asia playing at home,” Reyes said.
“If we get some more time, some more practice together, we should be able to address that.”
LEBANON (85) — Arakji 24, Saoud 17, Haidar 10, Gyokchan 9, Zeinoun 7, Arledge 6, Chamoun 3, Mansour 3, Ezzedine 3, Mezher 3.
PHILIPPINES (81) — Clarkson 27, Ramos 18, Aguilar 11, Sotto 10, Thompson 4, Newsome 3, K. Ravena 3, Malonzo 3, T. Ravena 2,