NBA star Jordan Clarkson and six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo led five Gilas Pilipinas players in double figures as the Nationals overpowered African qualifier Ivory Coast in the second half on the way to an 85-62 tuneup game victory Friday night, Aug. 18, at the PhilSports Arena in Pasig City.
Clarkson, of the Utah Jazz, and Fajardo each had 13 points, while AJ Edu had 12 with seven rebounds, Scottie Thompson 11, and 7-foot-3 NBA hopeful Kai Sotto 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting, as Gilas gathered strength heading to the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup starting August 25.
After playing without relief in the first half, Clarkson, who had six rebounds, sat out but the first four minutes of the third quarter and the entire fourth period.
A breakthrough moment in the third quarter opened for Gilas as it sped to several double digit leads before taking a 60-53 lead going to the final 10 minutes.
Clarkson, who played point guard most of the time, played the entire first half and finished with 13 points but committed four turnovers, most of them blinding passes that recipients couldn’t handle, thus betraying shades of unfamiliarity with each other.
“There were still some kinks defensively, the turnovers, kasi first time maglaro sila ng kumpleto di ba?” said Gilas coach Chot Reyes.
“We have to keep working on that. But I was very pleased with the defense, especially sa second half. Trinabaho talaga namin yon sa Europe and sa China.”
Gilas gave up their possession 18 times, two more than the Ivorians. But the Nationals had five more assists (19), five by Scottie Thompson, who appeared fully recovered from a hand fracture, and three more blocked shots.
It was the first time Clarkson played with Gilas in a tune-up game, along with Sotto, who came off the bench with 47 seconds left in the first quarter, which Gilas took 27-24.
Sotto had four points in 8:20 minutes, including a dunk. Fajardo, who formed a Twin Tower alignment with Sotto late in the first quarter, had seven points and Edu six points.
Kiefer Ravena had his moment orchestrating play in the second quarter, giving Clarkson some respite to create offense and play off-guard.
Dejan Prokic, Ivory Coast’s Slovenian head coach, had good words for Gilas’ potential against Angola.
“Philippine is a very good team, Clarkson is an exceptional player,” Prokic said. “They have a very good coach, they used what they have, they’re quite bigger than us and today they used it a lot. So I think Angola should not be a question.”
Aggressive in defense and remarkable in their ball movement that found open men, Ivory Coast, the first African team to qualify in this year’s World Cup, took the initiative early and kept the game close the rest of the first 20 minutes.
Behind fleet-footed point guard Bazoumana Kone, who had nine points in the first half, the Ivorians, who narrowly beat Angola during the FIBA Africa Qualifiers, gave the Nationals a preview of what to expect against the Angolans in the Group Phase of the preliminaries a week from now at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes used a 13-man lineup against Ivory Coast, sitting Ray Parks, Calvin Oftana, and Thirdy Ravena, who are expected to suit up for Gilas’ remaining friendlies against Montenegro on August 20 and Mexico on August 21.
Gilas came up with different formations and looks, going big in one instance and employing small-ball offense on other occasions.
Reyes will prune down the 16-man lineup after the tune-up matches to come up with a 12-man lineup for the all-important Group Phase games against the Dominican Republic on August 25 at the Philippine Arena in Bocaue, Bulacan, Angola on August 27 and Italy on August 29, both at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Dwight Ramos added 7 points for Gilas, Japeth Aguilar 6, Rhenz Abando 5, RR Pogory 4, CJ Perez 3 and Ravena 1.