Team redeemed as Gilas Pilipinas reclaims gold, puts heavily reinforced Cambodia in its place
All that needless sideline antics, that flexing with the Stephen Curry “night, night” gesture, that late time out with the game out of reach—everything. A Gilas Pilipinas squad hungry for redemption took all that and had a chance to shove them down the throat of a rival coach.
“It would have been nice to call a timeout in the end, right?” national coach Chot Reyes said after the Philippines whipped Cambodia, 80-69, to reclaim the basketball gold medal in the 32nd Southeast Asian Games on Tuesday night here in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“But if they’re classless, we aren’t. We always talked about playing the game the right way,” added Reyes.
Besides, this wasn’t about payback. This was about redemption. A year ago, the national team suffered what once was thought to be an improbable setback—losing the title the country held for more than three decades and winding up with a silver behind Indonesia.
That put Gilas Pilipinas and the oft-criticized Reyes under intense scrutiny. The team flew here with the intention of retaking the gold. But in just their second game here, the Filipinos ran into a Cambodia squad reinforced by six Americans, a result of relaxed eligibility rules enforced—and taken advantage of—by the host country.
The Philippines lost that one, 79-68. And Cambodia coach Harry Savaya knew made sure the Filipinos, flashing the “night night” gesture at Gilas and then calling a late timeout that drew the ire of the team.
“The game we lost to Cambodia was another learning experience for us and we had to come out and learn from our mistakes,” said veteran shooter Marcio Lassiter. “It was a challenge because the other team had five, six imports. I just love the guys we have. We were all for one, we played together and we just showed the true meaning of ‘puso’ (heart).”
On Tuesday, that heart reduced the host squad to a silver footnote, a study on how to proceed with eligibility rules in future SEA Games competitions.
And the Philippines? King of the region again.
“We did it. We did it,” Reyes said. “I don’t know if there’s anything else to say.”
“We just tried to keep fighting. It feels great to get the win,” said Justin Brownlee, the naturalized forward who finished with 23 points and seven rebounds.
“I definitely wasn’t satisfied with a good performance or looking good myself. The team’s success is my success,” Brownlee added. “When that clock hit zero, I felt the most proud as I could feel, just like [winning] a championship. And now, a gold medal. It’s an unbelievable feeling.”
Gilas built a 13-point lead at halftime and then withstood a number of fightbacks from the hosts to close the game.
“We just kept our focus. Here we are. The players did a hell of a job. They stuck together. We kept this team from what, five, six imports to below 70 points. That was great defense, man,” Reyes said.
“In the end, it was our defense that brought us to this gold medal.”
‘For the Filipino people’
It was also the desire of the team to prove itself to critics that fueled the title run.
“The doubters of Gilas, we were inspired by them,” said guard CJ Perez. “We were motivated to play for the Filipino people, for those who supported us and those who didn’t.”
The Cambodians came to within five in the fourth quarter, but with Savaya playing a short rotation all tournament long, his main men ended up spent.
Brandon Peterson had 18 points, Darrin Dorsey 17, while Sayeed Pridgett and Dwayne Morgan added 13 for Cambodia.
All that went for naught as the Philippines restored order in SEA Games basketball.
“Well you know, I came here, I envisioned this, visualized it. But I didn’t make it happen, it was the players who made it happen. It was their effort, their unwillingness to give up [that all made it happen] in the end,” Reyes said.
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