CHANGSHA – Palestine, a nation struggling for territory and political rights, made a mark in its FIBA Asia Championship debut, scoring a shocking 75-73 reversal of Gilas Pilipinas at the Changsha Social Work College Gymnasium here Wednesday night.
Jamal Abu Shamala, a late addition to the Palestine team, frolicked with three triples highlighting an endgame surge that carried the Palestinians to one of the most significant upset in Asian basketball lore.
Curiously, only three other Palestinians put up points for a seven-man squad American coach Jerry Steele marshaled to their stunning conquest of the high-profiled Gilas Pilipinas side.
The Filipinos were fortunate that it’s so early in the tourney that they can still gather and put themselves in a position to contend in the knockout rounds.
Next up for Gilas Pilipinas is Hong Kong at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in the same venue.
“I think we’ve got to look very hard at ourselves and ask the question why this happened. So that’s obviously our task now. This tourney is far from over. This is not a statement game on who Gilas Pilipinas is,” said Baldwin.
“This is a big mistake for our team, the coaching staff and all of us but fortunately we have a whole tournament to rectify that thing, fix it, get ourselves back to where we belong, putting ourselves in position to move to the playoff round,” Baldwin also said.
Trailing by as many as 16 early on, the Palestinians got into the battle and pulled the rug from under the Filipinos in the end by applying the basic zone defense.
“I wasn’t upset with the quality of our shots but if you don’t make shots, you don’t put points on the board,” said Baldwin who troops struggled with 7-of-30 three-point shooting and 26-of-77 clip from the two-point zone.
Baldwin also noticed their poor effort defensively.
“It’s one thing to lose a game and another to get beat. I thought we got beat. It’s not relevant whether Palestine is strong or not. What’s relevant is they got 23 offensive rebounds against us and we let their three primary scorers to dominate us,” rued Baldwin.
Shamala, a wingman, finished with game highs of 26 points and 15 rebounds, center Sani Sakakini produced 22 marks and 14 boards while playmaker Imad Qahwash collected 17 points, three assists and two rebounds.
The trio beat Gilas Pilipinas with a 13-2 closing run.
Sakakini, the lone Palestinian pro player plying his trade in the Chinese league, delivered the winning play on a three-point play off a foul by Dondon Hontiveros with 15,8 ticks to go.
The Philippines eventually lost the game with Andray Blatche misfiring a trey in the closing seconds.
“Maybe (they took us for granted). I don’t know now, but who got the win in the end. It’s us so that’s good for them,” said Sakakini with a big smile on his face.
It’s a huge upset considering the Palestinians are not really into basketball – or any sport for that matter – because of all the tensions in their homeland.
What made it more difficult to swallow for the Philippines was the Palestine coach saying they trained for less than two weeks for this tourney.