After enjoying a comfortable lead for much of their quarterfinal game against Iran, Gilas Pilipinas was in trouble in the fourth quarter.
What was once a 21-point margin turned into a 78-76 lead with less than four minutes in the game. Iran was on a huge scoring run thanks to a barrage of 3-pointers and clearly had momentum on their side.
Justin Bronwlee, however, was unfazed.
Brownlee probed and probed, attacking the basket then dishing it at the last minute to June Mar Fajardo, who drew the foul and knocked down both of his free throws.
In the ensuing possessions, Iran and the Philippines took turns holding the lead, but when push came to shove, Brownlee took matters into his own hands.
Brownlee’s basket proved to be the dagger and for much of the game, Gilas needed every ounce of his 36 points, eight rebounds, four assists, and two steals.
With Fajardo pretty much neutralized because of the heft of Meisam Mirzaei and Iran’s tactic of packing the paint limiting much of the interior passing, Brownlee’s early 3-pointers were crucial in forcing Iran’s defense to open up.
Once Iran respected his 3-point shooting, Brownlee proceeded to attack the basket, remaining a persistent threat and eventually opening up opportunities for Scottie Thompson and CJ Perez. Iran could only foul and make Brownlee uncomfortable and even when they went on their huge run, the six-time PBA champion was there to end their hopes and dreams.
Much was expected of Brownlee entering the Asian Games even as he continues to recover from surgery to remove bone spurs in his foot and in spite of that, he has delivered beyond expectations. Replacing an NBA player like Jordan Clarkson is not something to take lightly, but for a player like Brownlee, who has endeared himself to Filipinos because of his exploits with the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings, it was all about getting to work and putting one’s best foot forward.
The scoring, playmaking, and leadership on the court have been huge, especially during dry spells. Moreover, the naturalized forward’s familiarity with the system of Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone was a huge plus, as the ball movement was a boon for equal opportunity.
The Philippines’ blowout win over Qatar was a blessing in disguise in that the 35-year old needed to play just a shade under nine minutes before his teammates finished the job. Brownlee was able to pour much of his energy into the Iran game, but Gilas will now face China in the semifinals, an opponent that could prove to be tougher given they are the hosts and will likely have a raucous crowd behind them. It will take the same, if not more effort in taking down China, who themselves are looking to avenge their loss to Gilas Pilipinas 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
Thanks to Justin Bronwlee’s virtuoso performance, Gilas Pilipinas is already assured of its best finish in the Asian Games in more than 20 years and could eclipse that with a win over China. Given all the circumstances surrounding Brownlee and the team, that in itself is a great achievement, but knowing how they operate, they won’t settle despite being grateful for the journey.