MANILA, Philippines – Naturalized Filipino center Andray Blatche was clearly far from his dominant self during Gilas Pilipinas’ first two games of the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers.
Against both Japan and Chinese-Taipei in the first window of games, Blatche took time to get his rhythm on both offense and defense, and committed plenty of turnovers. A proven scorer who has lifted Gilas offensively in the past, Blatche averaged only 9.5 points per game for the Philippines in those two games.
His sluggish play was especially noticeable in the first half of the Philippines’ game against Chinese-Taipei on Monday at Araneta Coliseum. He managed only six points on 2-of-6 shooting, and was repeatedly beaten to the rim by Chinese Taipei counterpart Quincy Davis III.
Yet Gilas Pilipinas coach Chot Reyes came to Blatche’s defense following the game, one that the Philippines won 90-83 following a superb outing by their second unit and another takeover by Jayson Castro in the fourth.
“Blatche may have played a bad offensive game, but I thought he played good defense for us in the second half,” said Reyes. “In the first half, Quincy Davis was getting his way on Andray, but he tightened up in the second half.”
Indeed, Blatche came through defensively for Gilas in the third and fourth quarters. He did not score again, but he controlled the boards and repeatedly denied the Chinese-Taipei guards.
“He was a force inside,” said Reyes of Blatche. “He was forcing people to pull up and not go all the way.”
Blatche wound up with six points, 14 rebounds, and five blocks in the win, although he also had six turnovers and shot only two-of nine from the field.
According to Reyes, Blatche apologized to the team for his underwhelming performance, though the player himself declined to be interviewed.
“I think we’ve seen the worst of Andray’s games,” said Reyes. “Hopefully, in the next window, he’s going to be in better basketball shape. He would have been playing for a couple of months in China, so that should be able to help.”
More than getting Blatche in game shape, however, Reyes is most concerned about developing Blatche’s chemistry with the players and getting him caught up with the “little counters, the little things that we do.”
They had a very short time to integrate Blatche into the lineup, as he arrived in Manila just a couple of days before they flew out to Japan for the first game of the qualifying window. While Blatche did not need much time to adjust to his teammates or the plays, it was still evident that he was not completely in sync with the rest of the team.
“It’s really hard,” said Reyes. “Hindi naka-tono. He’s not in sync with our little counters, the little things that we do.”
“We can’t teach everything in five days. You might be able to teach everything but to actually practice it, run it, make it (part of your) instinct, you can’t get that in five days,” he pointed out.
Thus, Reyes is hopeful that the next time around, they will have more time to practice with Blatche before going into battle – though he acknowledges that this is a problem for another time.
“We’d still rather have Andray than not have him, especially when we play the big teams,” he said. “We’d still rather have Andray at this point.”
“So you know, the second window is another thing. The first window is over, the second window is another ball game altogether,” he added.
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