In a nail-biting showdown at the 19th Asian Games in Zhejiang, China, Gilas Pilipinas found themselves in a tight spot against the sharpshooting Thailand team, led by the formidable Tyler Lamb. It took them more than three quarters to unlock the mystery of their opponents, but in the final six minutes, they discovered the winning formula and secured an 87-72 victory at the Zhejiang University Zijingang Gymnasium.
It wasn’t until a late 7-2 surge in the fourth quarter, highlighted by a crucial tip-in from Justin Brownlee and a powerful putback by Japeth Aguilar, that the Nationals could finally breathe a sigh of relief. This hard-fought victory marked their second win, setting up a pivotal clash with Jordan on Saturday, with a direct path to the quarterfinals hanging in the balance.
For the Philippines, a loss in the upcoming match could complicate their journey through the playoffs. Jordan, led by the dominant Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, crushed Bahrain 84-60, maintaining an undefeated record in the preliminary rounds. This victory paves the way for a high-stakes showdown between Jordan and Gilas on September 30th at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center.
Gilas enjoyed a 19-point lead late in the third quarter, but it quickly evaporated in the face of Thailand’s scorching three-point shooting. Only the tenacity of Gilas’s frontcourt players saved them from an unexpected defeat.
Head coach Tim Cone emphasized the essence of the victory over its quality, stating, “We’re not here for style points. We’re not trying to win by a landslide and impress everyone. Our goal is to win each game by just one point. If we win by one point, that’s all that matters.”
Despite playing through pain from a surgically repaired foot, Justin Brownlee led the charge with 22 points. He struggled throughout the game to keep Gilas afloat against Thailand’s relentless barrage of three-pointers, particularly from Tyler Lamb and Frederick Lish, who contributed 29 and 22 points, respectively.
CJ Perez, known for his relentless attacks on the defense, chipped in with 16 points, while June Mar Fajardo added 9, Calvin Oftana 8, and Scottie Thompson 7 points. Thompson’s two clutch free throws in the final 51.6 seconds quelled Thailand’s last-ditch comeback attempt, securing an 87-72 victory.
Coach Cone acknowledged Brownlee’s determination to play despite his injuries, saying, “He was definitely hurting, his leg, and his foot was bothering him. I’d say he was about 80 percent today, 85 percent at the most. But he’s such a trooper, and he’s playing through it for one reason: because he’s representing the national team.”
Gilas faced a challenging first half as they tried to decipher Thailand’s game plan. They made progress in the third quarter but were caught off guard by Thailand’s resurgence, driven by their exceptional shooting.
The tense final moments saw Thailand close in on a seemingly insurmountable deficit, narrowing the gap to 68-63 with 6:24 left. However, a 16-2 run, fueled by three-pointers from Lish and Lamb, ultimately fell short, allowing Gilas to secure the win.
Coach Cone commended Thailand’s performance, particularly their coach, Eduard Torres Girbau, for his tactical adjustments. He noted, “He came out and changed defenses on us, kinda confused us a bit. We just have to rely on the skills of our players to make plays because we didn’t have much done in execution because we were so confused with the changing defenses.”
While Thailand’s prowess from beyond the arc was expected, Gilas was taken aback by their inability to match Thailand’s firepower in the first half. They trailed early in the game, but a late surge in the first quarter and a tightened defense in the second helped them narrow the gap before halftime.
The halftime score favored Gilas at 41-35, setting the stage for their impressive comeback in the third quarter, culminating in a thrilling fourth-quarter showdown.