From the start (and perhaps pretty much every SEA Games), Gilas Pilipinas’ mission was to bring home the gold medal in basketball.
Never mind that the Philippines’ regional peers were getting better and beefing up their respective rosters. Never mind that the court Gilas was playing in was worse than your average high school basketball court. It was gold or go home with your tails between your legs (and intensified calls to Fire Chot Reyes).
But Gilas Pilipinas got the job done.
Errors and second-chance points almost doomed the Philippines as turnovers allowed Cambodia to push the pace and offensive rebounds gave the hosts even better chances at scoring. Gilas looked disoriented whenever they lost the ball and whenever the Cambodians would get an offensive board, Gilas Pilipinas was not in a good position to defend.
Slowly but surely, though, the Philippines efforts helped swing things in their favor.
The lack of depth on the Cambodia side became more evident as the game wore on. The naturalized Cambodians were at times going through the motions on both ends of the floor, passing the ball and living and dying by the 3-pointer. Meanwhile, Gilas’ offense was firing on all cylinders, with pinpoint passes leading to open 3-pointers and timely drives to the basket.
Justin Brownlee was great and led all scorers with 23 points, but a huge amount of credit must be given to Christian Standhardinger. He was a menace in the paint, crashing the boards against Cambodia and anchoring the defense. Standhardinger’s drives to the basket proved to be painful too as he would draw fouls despite not getting some calls early on.
Compared to their previous game against the Cambodians, Gilas Pilipinas was more deliberate. The frantic pace and the nerves were evident in the first game, but the Philippines resorted to playing a slower game, wearing down Cambodia and forcing them to run around screens and banging bodies with the likes of Standhardinger, Michael Phillips, and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser. CJ Perez, Marcio Lassiter, Chris Newsome, Jerom Lastimosa, and Chris Ross were disruptors in the backcourt, forcing the Cambodians into ill-advised decisions that resulted in turnovers and catching them off-guard with perimeter jumpshots and quick drop passes to the Gilas big men. Both teams were stark contrasts in the endgame, and it shouldn’t be surprising when one was representing the flag, while the other had no ties and was being paid to do so.
A SEA Games campaign like this will definitely boost Gilas Pilipinas’ morale, as it proves to them and the doubters that they can weather through adversity. Nothing builds character more than facing an obstacle and overcoming it in spite of everything. Cambodia had the rules in their favor and pretty much made the most out of it and yet, the Philippines still came out on top.
That in itself is a feather on the cap of Reyes, who must be relieved to be in the good graces of the Philippines basketball community at least for now. Whatever he had in mind worked and credit to him and his staff for coming up with the right adjustments on both sides. They treated this tournament as a marathon and not a sprint, and in the end, Gilas put the Cambodians to bed.
With the SEA Games now in their rearview mirror, Gilas Pilipinas will now be solely focused on the FIBA World Cup. Practices and pocket tournaments are on the agenda, but more importantly, getting all hands on deck and everyone in the pink of health will be crucial. Yes, developing chemistry is a must, but if what the 12 went through in Phnom Penh won’t build camaraderie, then what will?
The Gilas Pilipinas Redeem Team lived up to its name and now the players will head home with gold medals on their necks. They deserve some time to celebrate the spoils of war and reunite with their families, but a win like this should get them amped up for the bigger goals ahead.