Gilas Pilipinas had a mountain to climb, facing off against a towering Chinese squad in the semi-finals of the 2023 Asian Games. China has a long history of dominating its Asian counterparts but has shown vulnerability in recent years, including a 94-75 defeat from the Philippine national team in the 2023 FIBA World Cup.
Hoping to redeem themselves from the rather underwhelming feat, China showcased glimpses of its past self, breezing through the 2023 Asian Games on home soil. The hosts escaped with a 14-point victory against South Korea on home soil, meeting the Philippines for an awaited rematch.
Despite their 21-point win a month prior, odds seemed stacked against Gilas Pilipinas, which saw the absence of the majority of its FIBA roster, a new mentor at the helm, and a size disparity that supplemented their previous win.
The 39 (out of 40) minutes of the Asian Games’ semis saw China bulldoze through the Philippine defense and dominate on the offensive end, seemingly extinguishing any hope for a comeback. Lagging behind most of the contest, the Philippines ended the half with a nearly 18-point deficit, but later outscored their opposition 20-14 in the third to be within striking dance (50-62).
With Interim Head Coach Tim Cone at the helm, Barangay Ginebra’s “Never Say Die” mantra infused its players in the fourth, seeing naturalized cager Justin Brownlee convert two consecutive three-point conversions as the Nationals held on to a 77-76 lead in the closing seconds en route to the tournament’s podium.
Gilas Pilipinas’ gold medal matchup against Jordan marks the program’s return to the Asian Games final after a 33-year hiatus. The Lim-Paras-Patrimonio-led roster was the last to reach the championship bout in 1990, bowing to the Chinese opposition 90–76.
Gilas enters the finals as the underdogs with their 62-82 loss against the Jordanians in the group phase. Led by PBA-import-turned-Jordan-superstar Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the national team has their work cut out for them, though the support of the basketball-filled nation remains heavily on their side.
Both local and international cagers expressed their support for Gilas Pilipinas’ exceptional feat.
Legendary Gilas Pilipinas frontman Gabe Norwood and former San Miguel Beermen import Chris McCullough (who has repeatedly expressed his desire to play for the Philippines) shared their gratitude and appreciation for Brownlee’s marvelous performance in crunch time. Jordan Clarkson also sent a tribute from Salt Lake City.