Gilas Pilipinas advances to FIBA OQT semis despite close loss to Georgia

Gilas Pilipinas puts up a gutsy performance over Georgia to punch a ticket to the FIBA OQT semis (FIBA)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

The Gilas Pilipinas men’s national basketball team was once again close to dealing another higher-ranked nation a major stunner.

Down by 20 points and already looking dead in the water, the brave Filipino hoopers’ resiliency and never-say-die mantra filled the Arena Riga in Latvia after completing a comeback for the ages when they erased Georgia’s cushion and retook the lead in the third quarter.

However, Georgia came back and scored timely buckets in the final three minutes of the game to escape the tough challenge from Gilas, 96-94, in the ongoing FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament (OQT) on July 4, 2024.

Despite the close loss, Gilas will still earn a semifinal berth in the OQT tournament as Georgia needed to win by at least 19 points over the PHL to advance to the next round.

Georgia had the chance to send the game into overtime and try to rebuild another double-digit lead but Goga Bitadze’s tip-in dunk missed, rewarding Gilas with a free pass to the OQT semifinal round.

It was a different start for Gilas over Georgia, unlike their blazing opener against Latvia. The Filipinos looked tired and failed to buy a basket in nearly five minutes of the first quarter.

As a result of Gilas’ cold shooting, Georgia was able to jump ahead by 16 points and were looking good in their goal of defeating Gilas by 18 points or more.

However, whenever Gilas needed a basket to get back on track, Justin Brownlee delivered again and scored several badly needed baskets to trim Georgia’s deficit to 11 points heading into the second frame.

Georgia continued to pound their way in the shaded lane as they found several mismatches underneath. The world no. 23 squad feasted in attacking the basket as they used their quicker big men to penetrate against the slower June Mar Fajardo and Kai Sotto.

Just when Georga thought they could capitalize on that cross-match all night long, Gilas’ head coach Tim Cone made the biggest adjustment of the game that kicked off their amazing comeback.

From a man-to-man coverage, coach Cone decided to switch to a zone defense that can help cover up their frontcourt’s lack of speed.

As soon as Gilas executed the zone defense, they immediately got back into the game and knocked down several haymakers that halted Georgia’s momentum.

Under the zone defense philosophy, gaps underneath can easily be addressed with quick help defenses from the baseline. That, if only you are willing to give up some open three-point looks.

For Cone, building a better defensive scheme against Georgia was more concerning than giving them a lot of looks from downtown.

Everything then clicked for Gilas when Georgia failed to maintain their pace and just jacked up three-pointers at will. With more missed attempts, the PHL was able to generate more defensive stops and scored on the other end.

After a hard labor in leveling the score, Gilas finally retook the advantage in the 1:48 mark of the third canto courtesy of Dwight Ramos’ perfect trip to the free throw line.

The whole fourth quarter became a dogfight as both squads traded scoring runs but Georgia heated up in the most crucial stretch of the final frame.

From a narrow one-point lead in the last seven minutes of the game, Georgia knocked down some clutch three-pointers that helped them back up again by seven points, 88-81.

Gilas never backed down and continued to fight, getting close to as much as a point, 94-93, after Brownlee made a banker floater shot from the right baseline.

However, time wasn’t on Gilas’ side as Georgia held the ball in the next possession. With a crazy attempt of forcing an overtime, the men in red fouled Chris Newsome and sent him to the charity stripe.

Newsome made his first attempt but failed in the last throw. To send the game into overtime, Bitadze tried to make a basket in Gilas’ own goal but unfortunately, his dunk attempt bounced out of the rim, giving the PHL the ticket to the OQT semifinals.

Leading the way for Gilas was again Brownlee who recorded another near triple-double performance of 28 points, eight rebounds, and eight assists.

The trio of Ramos, CJ Perez, and Newsome joined Brownlee as the Gilas players who entered double-digit scoring with 16, 14, and 12 points, respectively.

Carl Tamayo, who replaced Sotto in the second half when he was bothered with a minor rib injury, also balled out for Gilas despite a limited playing time and chipped in seven markers, two dimes, and a board.

Up next for Gilas are the world’s no. 12 ranked Brazilian national team in the OQT semifinals set to start on July 6, 2024.

“It’s the first time that I’ve felt good about losing. I just really want to compliment our guys. They went down 20. It could’ve been an easy panic time. But they worked their way back into the game,” said Cone during the post-game press conference.


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