Jordan Clarkson erupts for 34 as Gilas captures 1st World Cup win

Jordan Clarkson was feeling it from long range. Kennelf Monteza
By John Rhey Piamonte

QUEZON CITY–Fighting for pride and glory of its home turf, Gilas Pilipinas leaned on an astonishing third-quarter surge to rip Asian rival China in a sweet 96-75 win closing out its 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup campaign on Saturday night at the jam-packed Smart Araneta Coliseum. 

After a series of heartbreaking defeats, Gilas finally clinched its first World Cup victory since 2014, behind Jordan Clarkson's heroics after the NBA star exploded for 34 big points, 24 of those coming from the pivotal third quarter. 

“We just had two words on our board before the game, dig dip. We reminded the players that no matter the typhoon, the weather, or with this essentially being a no-bearing game the crowd still came, the Filipinos still came. We made sure to end this with a gift for the Filipino people,” Gilas head coach Chot Reyes said.

Playing in front of another capacity crowd in the Big Dome, Gilas started the game red hot as guard RR Pogoy caught fire early en route to a 10-2 advantage. 

On the other side of the court, Team Dragon closed the quarter strong behind forward Zhenlin Zhang's perfect first-quarter shooting that turned the tide against Gilas after a 12-0 closing run for a 14-10 lead.

Gilas eventually closed the first period strong to force a 16-all deadlock entering the second 

It was then a back-and-forth second salvo as both teams traded baskets and heated up their engines but a right elbow jumper from Kaier Li propelled China to a 40-39 lead come halftime.

Then the rampage happened. 

Rhenz Abando, who has been one of the most consistent players for Gilas in this tournament, opened the floodgates in the third with his booming triple to give Gilas a 51-48 lead. 

Clarkson then followed suit and erupted for five straight triples that delighted the thousands of fans in attendance and ignited a 14-0 scoring barrage, building the Philippine's largest lead in the process, 73-50. 

“We just want to show hard and fight, resiliency,” Clarkson on the team’s mindset heading into this game. “They (Filipino fans) came out here and supported us. And with that, we continued to fight just what we have been doing all World Cup,” he added. 

Putting it all on the line, Gilas never stepped on the gas pedal as the five of Clarkson, Abando, Dwight Ramos, Kai Sotto, and AJ Edu put the nail in the coffin limiting China to a dismal 42 percent shooting clip in the fourth quarter.

Abando finished his world championships debut with another solid stat line, scoring 14 markers, alongside five rebounds and one block.

Meanwhile, Sotto had one of his most impressive outings in Gilas uniform as he chimed in 12 points and six rebounds while Dwight Ramos contributed 12 points. 

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kyle Anderson paced the Red Dragon with 17 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. 

This was the country's first World Cup victory after a winless campaign in the 2019 edition of the tournament held in Foshan, China, with the last one being the triumph over Senegal dating back to the 2014 Spain Games. 

Moreover, with this win, Gilas punched a ticket to the 2024 Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) after avoiding a bottom-five finish in the tournament.

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