Gilas Pilipinas in the thick of things (Photo courtesy of ABS-CBN News)

BULACAN — In the inaugural match of the FIBA World Cup, Gilas Pilipinas failed to maintain their momentum in the first three quarters and allowed a hugely taller Dominican Republic squad to secure a hard-fought 87-81 victory before a record 38,000 spectators at the Philippine Arena here.

Gilas held a narrow three-point lead, 72-69, thanks to Jordan Clarkson’s successful free throws with just under six minutes left in the fourth quarter. However, this advantage quickly slipped away. The Dominican Republic responded with consecutive three-pointers, the last one coming from Karl-Anthony Towns, propelling them ahead at 75-72 with 5:58 on the clock.

Despite their efforts, Gilas managed to stay competitive, narrowing the gap to 74-75 and then 77-76 through Junmar Fajardo’s free throws and jumper. Unfortunately, this was the last significant surge from the national team. A critical five-second inbound violation occurred at the 3:50 mark, halting their momentum.

Jordan Clarkson led the scoring for Gilas Pilipinas with 28 points, while Junmar Fajardo contributed 16 points.

Throughout the first half, the tenacity of Team Gilas Pilipinas was evident. They prevented the Dominican Republic from extending their lead beyond six points, maintaining a tight game at 17-11. Earl Scottie Carreon Thompson’s three-pointer disrupted the opposition’s efforts to build a larger lead, bringing the Nationals back into contention at 17-14.

As the first half concluded, Gilas managed to level the score at 42-42 thanks to a slam dunk by Rhenz Abando. Abando, a 6-foot-2 professional basketball player, had previously played for Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the Philippine Basketball Association before joining Anyang KGC in the Korean Basketball League. He began his college basketball journey with the UST Growling Tigers.