NBA star Jordan Clarkson lived up to expectations but Gilas Pilipinas still couldn’t get over the hump as they fell to Lebanon, 81-85, on Friday dawn (Philippine time), August 26, in the FIBA World Cup Asian Qualifiers in Beirut.
Clarkson, who plays for the Utah Jazz in the NBA, sizzled for 27 points and also collected six rebounds and seven assists in a superb showing that proved not enough to give the Filipinos a win.
Stealing the thunder from Clarkson was Lebanon’s savvy playmaker Wael Arakji, who erupted for 24 points including clutch baskets down the stretch that sealed the Cedars’ sixth win in seven outings in the tournament.
The six-foot-four Arakji scored Lebanon’s last seven points in what was a masterfurl showing by the Asia Cup Most Valuable Player.
Gilas led by four, 75-71, inside the final five minutes but Lebanon came back and seized the upper-hand, 80-78, on two crucial free throws by Arakji.
Arakji also figured in a critical play that sealed the outcome of the tightly contested match.
With Gilas down by two, Kai Sotto pulled off a huge defensive stop when he blocked a driving Ali Haidar.
The ball, however, bounced straight to the way of Arakji, who then drained a shotclock-beating triple from the right corner, giving Lebanon a five-point cushion, 83-78, with only 16.3 seconds left.
Gilas had the chance to inch closer when Clarkson was able to fish a foul while attempting a shot with 11.5 seconds left.
Clarkson made the first gift shot but missed the second. Still, Gilas had a chance when Clarkson collared an offensive rebound off his missed free throw but his corner three-point shot was off the mark.
Arakji iced the contest by dropping two free throws in the next play.
Arakji also contirbuted three rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Aside from Clarkson, Dwight Ramos, Japeth Aguilar and Sotto also wound up with double digits with 18, 11 and 10 markers, respectively.
Arakji was backed by Amir Saoud with 17 points, while Haidar added 10.Gilas will try to bounce back from that loss when it hosts Saudi Arabia on Monday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Follow the writer on Twitter: @burnsports