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Buoyed by back-to-back thriller wins, PH goes for the gold

BUOYED by a courageous comeback win that stunned host China in the semifinals, an inspired Gilas Pilipinas shoots for the gold medal Friday night when the Filipinos take on mighty Jordan in the winner-take-all finals of the 19th Asian Games men's basketball tournament at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Centre Gymnasium in Hangzhou, China.

The highly anticipated match is slated at 8 p.m.

The Philippine men’s basketball team will go for all the marbles on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, when it battles favorite Jordan in the gold medal game at the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. PSC PHOTO

The Philippines advanced to the gold medal round for the first time in 33 years, thanks to naturalized player Justin Brownlee's second-half brilliance against China that saw him fire 27 of his 33 points in that stretch. The 35-year-old Brownlee went 7-of-12 from downtown, none bigger than his seventh triple of the game with 23 seconds to go. That proved to be the game-winning shot that lifted Gilas Pilipinas to a 77-76 win over host China. What made the win special was the Filipinos fought back from 20 points down, stunning the partisan Chinese crowd as well inside the playing venue.

“What a miracle that was, truly it's just a miracle. I can't even imagine it happening that way. Guys just kept battling and battling,” Gilas interim coach Tim Cone told One Sports after the game on Wednesday night. The American mentor admitted he had somehow lost all hope when the Chinese erected a huge 18-point lead at halftime. “We were losing hope all the way through. Halftime we were down by 18 points, and we're like looking at each other, open hand,” said Cone. “Well, we just got to go for it at this point. That's what we meant when we told Justin to just go for it. When he sees an opening, attack, go for it.” Brownlee went for it and looked unstoppable in several plays. “I lost hope all the way through, until the last 30 seconds or last 23 seconds. I presumed we're gonna lose that game, but the good news is, even though I lost hope, the players didn't and they kept battling back. They were amazing, I give credit to them,” Cone added. Before that, the Philippines also won over Iran by a hairline, 84-83, in the quarterfinals. With just one win to go to put an end to the Philippines' 61-year Asian Games title drought in basketball, only one team is standing in the way— Jordan. The Jordanians, led by naturalized player and 2022-23 PBA Governors' Cup Best Import Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, thrashed the Filipinos, 87-62, during the close of their group play last Saturday. The 28-year-old Hollis-Jefferson registered all-around numbers of 24 points, nine assists and six rebounds in Jordan's 25-point carnage of the Philippines in the group stage. Jordan marched into the gold medal round still unscathed after sweeping Group C, which also included lopsided wins over Thailand, 97-63, and Bahrain, 84-60. The West Asian squad then hammered Saudi Arabia, 76-57, in the quarterfinals before rolling past Chinese Taipei, 90-71, in the semis to advance in the Asian Games finals for the first time in the country's history. Jordan's best finish was fourth in 1986 and 2006. The Philippines, though, is determined to end the country's string of heartbreaks in the Asian Games, while riding on its three-game win streak that included victories over Qatar (80-41), Iran and China.

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