32nd SEA Games: Gilas Pilipinas reclaims lost glory, gets payback from Cambodia

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KINGS AGAIN. The Philippines retook their place as the best men's national basketball team in the Southeast Asian Games after depriving host Cambodia of the biennial meet crown. PHOTO: REUTERS
The Philippine men's national basketball team, popularly known as Gilas Pilipinas, regained the Southeast Asian Games crown they lost last year.
Gilas Pilipinas clinched the gold in the men's basketball tournament after silencing Cambodia, 80-69, to redeem themselves from a dismal silver medal finish during the Hanoi 2021 Games.
Indonesia stripped them of the SEA Games belt they held for 33 years, which frustrated and dismayed the Filipino basketball community.
It was only a matter of time before the Philippines' weaknesses got exploited by the Indonesian side former Gilas tactician Rajko Toroman mentored.
To fans' disappointment, SBP sent a lineup composed of professional players from the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and Japan's B. League, only to win a silver in the tournament the Pearl of the Orient used to dominate.
This predicament sparked social media debates about who to blame, even urging the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP) to fire Chot Reyes or he himself must voluntarily resign.
Moreover, the shocking defeat added to the fire at that time, with the Philippines coming off a sluggish 2023 FIBA Basketball World Cup Asian Qualifiers first window campaign.
New Zealand humiliated the Reyes-coached Gilas in Smart-Araneta Coliseum, 88-63, with the squad seemingly unprepared for the qualifying. The 88-64 thumping of India in their opening match wasn't enough to satisfy Filipinos as the South Asian nation is a relatively lower-ranked team than themselves.
"A pure disgrace to the sport we love," an angry Filipino hoop fan on those days might say.
With that in mind, redemption is the only way for Gilas to win or at least regain the trust of their countrymen.
How does Gilas Pilipinas complete its redemption tour?
On Tuesday night, May 16, Justin Brownlee ensured the SEA Games throne would retake at Morodok Techo National Stadium.
Relentless, the naturalized forward showed no signs of fatigue after dropping 34 points in their semifinal triumph over defending champion Indonesia.
JB dropped 23 points and collected seven rebounds, four assists, a steal, and a block for Gilas to overcome a Cambodian squad parading multiple naturalized players.
Chris Newsome provided additional firepower, scoring 16 markers and dishing four dimes, as the nationals deprived Cambodia of their first-ever men's basketball gold in the biennial meet.
Marcio Lassiter added 10, while Christian Standhardinger, CJ Perez, and Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser chipped in nine points each.
In a postgame interview, Reyes credited his wards' defense in this win that avenged their defeat against the Cambodians last May 11, which they did while the nation's prime minister, Hun Sen, and a raucous home crowd were watching.
"We stuck together. We kept this team of what, five Americans, five imports, six imports to below 70 points. That's great defense," Reyes said.
"In the end, it was our defense that got us to this gold medal," he furthered as Gilas' D held Cambodia to just 4-of-19 shots from rainbow country.
The nine-time PBA champion also said this will be the last time he will coach the Philippines in the SEA Games.
"Win or lose, this was going to be my last SEA Games, I promised I'll never coach in the SEA Games anymore. At least, I will go out with a gold medal."
Starting strong paid off for the Philippines to build a double-digit lead as big as 13 points, yet what mattered the most was their endgame composure that got the job done.
Sayeed Pridgett and Dwayne Morgan spearheaded an 8-0 run early in the fourth quarter for Cambodia to come within five, 59-64, as Gilas ended the third frame leading by 13 points.
Gilas responded with back-to-back treys from Perez and Brownlee to erect an 11-point advantage with 6:07 remaining. Ganuelas-Rosser and Newsome hit assurance buckets from there, and the Philippines never looked back.
Center Brandon Peterson paced Cambodia with an 18-point, 14-rebound effort, Darrin Dorsey poured 17 markers, and Pridgett and Morgan contributed 13 apiece as the host settled for silver in their first-ever SEA Games men's 5x5 basketball finals.
Meanwhile, Thailand overcame Indonesia, 83-69, to take their third bronze medal in the last four editions of the SEA Games.
The Scores:
Philippines (80) – Brownlee 23, Newsome 16, Lassiter 10, Ganuelas-Rosser 9, Perez 9, Standhardinger 9, Lastimosa 4, Oftana 0, Tolentino 0, Ross 0, Philips 0, Amos 0.
Cambodia (69) – Peterson 18, Dorsey 17, Morgan 13, Sayeedalkabir 13, Henderson 6, Lopes 2, Dominic 0, Pek 0, Chin 0, Chanyvathana 0, Ravuth 0, Toun 0.
Quarter scores: 21-22, 44-33, 64-51, 80-69

Last Modified: 2023-May-17 22.03.19 UTC+0800