For the first time in 61 years, the Philippines is back on top of the Asian basketball world.
After back-to-back one-point wins in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, Gilas Pilipinas pulled off a stunning 70-60 win over Jordan in the final of the 19th Asian Games at Hangzhou.
Gilas head coach Tim Cone pulled off a defensive masterclass as Jordan’s 60-point total marked their lowest output in the tournament.
More than a third of Jordan’s points came from their naturalized player and leading scorer Rondae Hollis-Jefferson who put up 24 points to lead all scorers. However, he needed an inefficient 29 shots to get there as the Philippines’ pesky defense got the best of him.
The team’s game plan for Hollis-Jefferson was the highlight of the excellent adjustments that Cone and his staff made for this gold medal match. Just one week earlier, Jordan scored a blowout win over the Philippines, 87-62, in the group stage where they looked next to unbeatable. This ultimately proved to be the best learning experience that Gilas could ask for as they proceeded to win their next four games to top this quadrennial tournament.
Justin Brownlee once again led the way for the Philippines with 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists in 38 minutes. The familiarity of Brownlee–Cone’s longtime Barangay Ginebra San Miguel import in the PBA–with this team’s system paid off handsomely at these Asian Games and emphasized the value of continuity with any program.
Aside from Brownlee, his fellow naturalized player and former ADMU Blue Eagle Ange Kouame also played a crucial role in the win as the team’s defensive backbone. The 6’11 Kouame came off the bench to tally 14 points on five-of-six field goal shooting, 11 rebounds, five steals, and two blocks.
Cone also leaned heavily on starters Chris Newsome and Scottie Thompson who both played over 30 minutes during the contest. This pair of guards scored 13 and 11 points, respectively, but what stood out the most was their composure as they combined for only three turnovers during the match.
While this tournament is not FIBA-sanctioned and has no bearing with regards to the team’s qualification for the 2024 Paris Olympics, this gold medal is nonetheless an immense achievement. These games have been held since 1951 and are an important part of the regional sporting scene. The Philippines won the gold medal in basketball during the first four Asian Games, with the last of this four-peat coming in the 1962 edition held at Jakarta.
Since then, the country has suffered various heartbreaks as the Philippines’ best finish between its gold medals in 1962 and 2023 was a lone silver medal achieved back in 1990. This win also marks the Philippines’ first top-three finish since claiming bronze back in 1998 where Cone was the team’s coach as well.
The hope around the country is that it will not take another 25 years before Cone’s next stint as the Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team coach.
After his predecessor stepped down following last month’s disastrous FIBA World Cup stint that capped off decades of unnecessary drama, the stability and savvy that Cone has brought since taking over has been nothing short of a godsend. There were no excuses or fingers pointed after the team’s group stage loss to Jordan and he instead went back to the drawing board to deliver this much-awaited gold medal.
This Asian Games win could be the start of something great for Gilas Pilipinas, but only time can tell. The unpredictable nature of Philippine basketball politics can easily derail the momentum from this tournament and leave the team back at square one.
In the meantime, this win is six decades in the making and should be savored by Filipino basketball fans who, even for just a few days, can finally sleep well at night.