The Philippines’ 80-82 loss to China on Tuesday in the men’s basketball of the Asian Games in Jakarta Palembang, Indonesia was the closest the national team could get against the continent’s powerhouse. Had our boys sustained their mostly excellent defense in the second half, the outcome would have been in their favor. The last minute lapses denied the country another chance to score a victory against China which we last defeated on the Asian stage 44 years ago.

On hindsight, the game was decided in the first quarter, when China outscored the Philippines with a flurry of uncontested triples. On the other hand, our boys failed to deliver most of their attempts from rainbow territory during the first half. It was only during the second period that Fil-Am Jordan Clarkson made three-point plays and made things happen for his teammates with his assists.

The beauty of Clarkson’s presence was the tendency of the Chinese defenders to gang up on him, freeing up the other shooters or cutters in the wings. In several plays, up to three defenders would swarm on the Cleveland Cavaliers guard. If only the Philippine team had pure perimeter shooters in the mold of Allan Caidic, something that could have offset China’s dominance in the paint. China is fielding two seven-footers who, like Clarkson, are playing in the NBA, too.

Still, my hats off to the boys and coach Yeng Guiao for giving the Chinese jitters with their never-say-die attitude. He has managed to infuse cohesion into the team despite limited time for practice. After all, this lineup serves as a spare tire after most of the original team members were banned for engaging the Australian team in a brawl during the FIBA World qualifying game at the Philippine Arena last July 2.

Granting a Chinese victory against Kazakhstan on Thursday (August 23), the Philippines will likely face South Korea in the knockout quarterfinals on August 27. But if Kazakhstan could pull off an upset win, our boys will top their group due to a higher quotient and face a lighter assignment since they defeated the Kazakhs with a 37-point margin. Kazakhstan, should it overpower China, won’t likely score a rout.

Here’s hoping for the best for our boys. (Body and Sole is H. Marcos C. Mordeno’s fitness and sports column. He played soccer and basketball during his student days, the latter even after he left college until a highway crash broke his left leg.)