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Gilas five fades, bows 87-81 to Dominican Rep.

FIBA OPENER. Jordan Clarkson pulls up for a jumper against three Dominican Republic defenders in the Philippines’ opening game in the 2023 FIBA World Cup on Friday at the Philippine Arena in Bulacan.

Bocaue, Bulacan—The Philippines broke the attendance record in a FIBA game but got its heart broken hours later by a resilient Dominican Republic team, losing 87-81 Friday night at the Philippine Arena and dimming its chances to advance in the 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.

It was a winnable game for Gilas Pilipinas, which gave the Dominicans hell for 37 minutes, before folding in the final three, where it lost its steadying presence with the fouling out of its NBA star Jordan Clarkson.

The Utaz Jazz’s resident Sixth Man hit 28 points, 7 rebounds, and 7 assists, but fouled out in the final 3:50, leaving Gilas without its primary scoring weapon.

But even without Clarkson, Gilas was just within a basket at 79-81, in the last two minutes, but a three-point play from Victor Liz and a layup from the hulking Jean Montero finally put away the hosts for good.

Junemar Fajardo added 15 for Gilas while Dwight Ramos fired 11. The Dominicans forced Gilas to 19 turnovers, and they gave up the ball only 12 times.

Former NBA Rookie of the Year Karl Anthony Towns redeemed himself from a bad shooting night by delivering the baskets that mattered most for the Dominicans, anchoring a key 6-0 run in the fourth quarter that put the visitors up for good at 81-76.

The Minnesota Timberwolves star finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds in his duel against Clarkson.

The loss pushed the Filipinos to the edge, as they need to win their final two games – against Angola and Italy – to advance to the Final 16.

Dominican Republic coach Nestor Garcia noted the way Gilas tried to stop Towns in his effort to dominate the paint.

“There was too much fight to stop Towns. It was physical out there, to control him, to deny him, and push him for every offensive rebound. There’s just too much effort to counter him,” said Garcia. Gilas coach Chot Reyes said the players really put up a great effort to defend against Towns.

“I really love the fight of the players. It was unfortunate for Jordan Clarkson to be disqualified. It was a big blow for us.

We can’t worry about that now,” added Reyes. Reyes said they will now have to worry about their next game against Angola. The bit of good news was the new record set by the Philippines of 38,115 fans in attendance, with President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., House Speaker Martin Romualdez, and FIBA President Hamane Niang in attendance to witness the historical moment.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. arrives just before the match to encourage Gilas Pilipinas, and then stands with (from left) SBP president Al Panlilio, MVP Group chairman Manny V. Pangilinan, FIBA President Hamane Niang, and Speaker Martin Romualdez. Danny Pata, PPA Pool, and FIBA.basketball

The feat surpassed the old record of 32,616 set in 1994 in Toronto, Canada, where a powerhouse US team, led by Shaquille O’Neal and Reggie Miller, routed Russia to win the championship.

To help in the efforts, the government declared a non-working holiday in public schools and government offices in Metro Manila and Bulacan.

The SBP lured more fans for the opening date by putting up exciting festivities, including performances by Sarah Geronimo and Ben & Ben. Clarkson, who had 18 points, three assists, and a steal in the first half, set Rhenz Abando for a layup that put Gilas in a 42-all tie at the half.

Liz shot 14 points, including a dunk that put the Dominicans in their last taste of the lead in the half at 42-40.

In the first game, also at the Philippine Arena, Simone Fontecchio, who looks forward to playing against Clarkson, led with 19 points for Italy, which pummeled Angola, 81-67.

The 6-foot-7 Fontecchio, a teammate of Clarkson on the Utah Jazz, scored timely baskets with teammate Gianpaolo Ricci in the last period as the Italians got past the aggressive Angolans.

Fontecchio said he’d love to see himself meeting the Filipino-American star in their coming Group A game.

“I see him. Now, I’m more than happy to play against him. Can’t wait to see him,” said Fontecchio, who caught a glimpse of Clarkson during Gilas’ warmups, moments after the Italians were done with their game with Angola.

Ricci banged in 12 points, including seven in the final period, as he and Fontecchio pushed the Italians to the driver’s seat for good following a 57-all deadlock in the final period.

Ricci’s putback in an 8-0 blast gave the Italians the upper hand, 65-57, with 7:36 left. Fontecchio’s driving shot in the last 1:16 lifted the Italians to a 14-point edge and the game’s final score.

Childe Donao made 19 points for the Angolans, including a triple with 3:54 to go in the second period which gave them the lead, 32-29.

“It was a tough game. We did not get many shots, and that did not help us a lot. But, we’re happy we got the win,” said Fontecchio.

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