Gilas Pilipinas halts 61-year Asian Games gold medal basketball drought

After 61 years. We finally made it. (Philippine Olympic Committee Facebook)

By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña

They say champions had to taste pain first before reaching the pinnacle.

Heading into the 2023 Asian Games with a lot of drama and lack of preparation due to an unfortunate series of events, the Gilas Pilipinas men’s national basketball team was among the squads that were not expected to perform at a high level and reach the final stop of the tournament seeding.

Guess who’s laughing now?

  1. 1954. 1958. 1962. And now, 2023. Congratulations Gilas Pilipinas for ending the PHL’s 61-year gold medal drought in the Asian Games men’s basketball!

It wasn’t a tough task for the Filipino hoopers as they faced the only team that defeated them during the preliminary round, Jordan, in the grand finals of the tournament last October 6, 2023, held in Hangzhou, China.

However, the second time was a charm as Gilas was able to break the Jordanian code, 70-60, to win one of the country’s sweetest gold medals while capping off their campaign with a revenge finale.

It was no longer a sloppy and cold start for Gilas as they immediately pounced on Jordan to clinch the early momentum of the game.

With the combined offensive efforts from Justin Brownlee, Scottie Thompson, Chris Newsome, and Calvin Oftana, Gilas’ offense wasn’t predictable anymore as their balanced attack ruined Jordan’s composure in the whole four-quarter duration.

Despite Jordan erasing Gilas’ 13-point lead to deadlock the half at 31-all, the Filipinos responded from time to time and punched the opposition in the mouth when they drained several field goal extinguishers to maintain their lead.

The turning point for Gilas began at the 5:21 mark of the third quarter when they were only up by a point, 40-39.

After a terrific cross pass delivered by Brownlee to an open Oftana with only 1.3 seconds left in the shot clock, the TNT Tropang Giga scorer drained the shot that started their huge 11-2 scoring run to end the third frame carrying a 51-41 lead.

Jordan tried to keep up with Gilas’ pace in the final 10 minutes of action but the Filipinos’ unselfishness proved to be the difference as they moved the ball well to find open scorers that maintained their lead for the rest of the game.

Gilas’ head coach Tim Cone then deployed a defensive lineup to neutralize Jordan’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and their paint-oriented offense headed by Ange Kouame who came up big with his blocks and offensive boards.

Leading the way for Gilas was Brownlee who put up 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block.

Backstopping Brownlee was Kouame who finished the gold medal match with an impressive double-double of 14 points and 11 rebounds while Newsome and Thompson combined for 24 markers.