AFTER 61 years, the Philippines is once again the basketball champion in the Asian Games.
The long wait ended Friday night, when Gilas Pilipinas eked out a hard-fought 70-60 victory against Jordan in the final of the men's basketball tournament in the 19th edition of the Asiad in Hangzhou, China.
The Philippines last won the basketball gold medal in the quadrennial regional games in Jakarta in 1962.
The victory was all the more sweet because the Filipinos' road to the finals was a long, rocky one.
The Filipinos had to survive two do-or-die games — a narrow 84-83 triumph against Iran in the quarterfinals and a come-from-behind 77-76 squeaker against China in the semis — to earn a finals ticket.
The team was formed some two weeks before the Hangzhou Games under interim coach Tim Cone, following the surprise decision of Chot Reyes to step down at the close of Gilas' 2023 FIBA World Cup campaign.
Both sides suffered early nerves in the first quarter, with Jordan sinking just three-from-17 field goals and the Philippines faring little better with six-from-18.
But a three-pointer from Justin Brownlee just before the buzzer gave the Philippines the edge heading into the second quarter and they stretched to a 13-point lead.
Huge back-to-back baskets outside the arc from Fadi Mustafa and former Brooklyn Nets starter Ronda Hollis-Jefferson helped haul Jordan back into the game and they went to half-time level at 31-all.
Jordan took the lead for the first time when Jefferson sank a two-pointer soon after the restart, but the Philippines kept coming and seized back control, led by Brownlee and Chris Newsome.
Taking a 10-point buffer going into the final quarter, they survived some nervy moments and clung on.
The momentum shifted back to the Philippines in the third quarter, and they took a 51-41 lead into the home stretch and then held their nerve for a famous victory.
The 6-foot-4 Brownlee led Gilas' run with 20 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists. Ange Kouame added 14 points and 11 boards and Chris Newsome chipped in 13 points.
The 6-foot-11 Kouame made a pair of foul shots, before adding a tip-in to give Gilas a 64-55 breathing room.
The Filipinos never relinquished the lead.
Hollis-Jefferson, who led Jordan's clinical 87-62 demolition of Gilas in the group play, scored 24 points in a losing stand. He struggled in offense as the Gilas Pilipinas defense shut him down.
Hollis-Jefferson shot 7-of-27 (27.5 percent) from the field, including a dismal 3-of-14 (21 percent) from the three-point area.
Jordan settled for the silver, topping its previous best finish of fourth place, which the West Asian squad achieved in 1986 and 2006.
China took the bronze by defeating Taiwan.
Basketball added to the Philippines' four gold-medal haul in the Hangzhou Games.
Earlier Friday, jiu-jitsu fighter Annie Ramirez clinched the third gold, defeating Kazakhstan's Galina Duvanova, 2-0, in the final of the women's 57-kilogram division.
The 32-year-old Ramirez opened her campaign with a victory over Le Thi Thuong of Vietnam in the Round of 16 via advantage. She followed it up with a victory against Singapore's Fiona Toh, 7-0, in the quarterfinals.
In the semifinals, Ramirez dispatched Shamsa Alameri of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) via submission to book a ticket to the gold-medal round.
She is the second Filipino jiu-jitsu player to bag a gold in the Hangzhou Games. The first was two-time world jiu-jitsu champion Margarita “Meggie” Ochoa, who ruled the 48kg category on Thursday.
On September 30, Ernest John “EJ” Obiena secured the country's first gold medal by setting a new Asian Games record in pole vault at 5.75 meters.
Another Filipino jiu-jitsu fighter, Jenna Kaila Napolis, took the bronze in the women's 52 kg division. Napolis defeated Hessa Alshamsi of the UAE via points, 4-2.
Napolis defeated Kazakhstan's Kristina Zhurabekova in the Round of 16, and Park Jeong-hye of South Korea in the quarterfinals, before losing to Asma Alhosani of the UAE in the semifinals, which led to her faceoff with Alshamsi, who defeated Filipino Mariella Rafael in the round of 16.
Gerard Gallos also exited early after losing in his first match via points to Mongolia's Batbayar Batsukh.
As of Friday, the Philippine jiu-jitsu team had two gold medals and a bronze, with Andrea Lois Lao (women's 63 kg) and Dean Michael Roxas (men's 85 kg) set to compete on Saturday.
WITH AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
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