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Gilas comeback falls short vs. Georgia, but advances to OQT semis

Photo courtesy of: FIBA


The Philippines nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback in their FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament matchup against Georgia on Thursday, July 4, in Latvia, but fell just short in the final minutes of the final period, 96-94.

Due to a superior quotient against Georgia following the group stage, Gilas will advance to the semifinals as the second seed of Group A in the Latvia OQT. They are scheduled to face top-seeded MONTENEGRO/BRAZI/CAMEROON from Group B on Sunday, July 7 (Manila time). A win there would advance the Philippines to what should be considered an impressive finals run, and give head coach Tim Cone what he seeks: a chance to win this tournament, despite the odds.

A prize – the ultimate prize – in doing that includes earning a ticket to the Paris Olympics, where only the best of the best in the world compete. This would be the Philippines’ opportunity to prove they still belong in the higher tiers of the global stage, and it’s now within grasp.

Despite playing less than 24 hours following their emotional victory against Latvia (ranked #6 in the world by FIBA) and requiring just not to lose by more than 19 points against Georgia (ranked #23), the Philippines’ second-half performance displayed the character of a united squad living up to its personal mantra of competing in every instance. Justin Brownlee agreed after the game that whether it’s a Ginebra post-game locker room or national team huddle, Cone’s belief in the collective resonates strongest.

It wasn’t rainbows and butterflies early. Georgia played as the aggressors in the first two quarters, building their lead up to 20. Seeking answers, Cone, ever the daring tactician, deployed a 2-3 zone defense scheme which even he admitted they never practiced before. It worked. Georgia still found open looks and converted a decent amount of them, but the change in pace favored the Asian-based nationals. Slowly and surely, Gilas chipped away at the lead, and when Dwight Ramos knocked down one of his four long balls to trim Georgia’s lead to five in the third period, a semifinals ticket no longer felt at peril.

Brownlee was magnificent. 28 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on 11-of-16 shooting. He knocked down four three-pointers. He made all seven free throws. He defended his ass off. He penetrated at will, never hijacked the offense, and found ways to attack Georgia’s defense – whether by relying on his individual brilliance or finding opportunities for teammates. When the team needs a bucket, he’s the best option. And a great one at that. He’s now earning recognition worldwide as “The Philippines’ Michael Jordan.” Sure. He’s also our Justin Brownlee.

Brownlee hasn’t been alone in leading this impressive charge. Gilas was a +23.5 underdog against Latvia who didn’t lead against the Philippines a single second in early Thursday morning’s matchup. The Philippines was then a +6.5 underdog against Georgia. Ranked 37th in the world, Gilas’ chances to secure a victory entering the tournament seemed bleak, but contributions across the board have given them a fighting chance.

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