While on the international stage, Filipino basketball players have to fight tooth and nail for recognition, and more often than not be sorely disappointed when competing against juggernaut teams like the US, some European nations and squads like Iran, in the Southeast Asian region the Philippines is the basketball king. This reality was played out in the 4-medal basketball events for the 2019 SEA Games: two each for men and women teams in 5×5 and 3×3 competition. The 3×3 games were dominated by the host country, and the men’s 5×5 contest was a roaring rampage of revenge for Smart Gilas. Hurting after FIBA 2019, they recovered to win gold here.
ESPN has it that the expected outcome played out the evening of Tuesday, December 10, at the Mall of Asia Arena. The Philippine Men’s National Basketball Team aka Smart Gilas was pitted against Thailand for the Gold-medal game. And despite a somewhat worryingly sluggish first half the home squad did not let the audience and the Filipino people down. Upon the start of the third quarter the Gilas team bowled over the Thais and their naturalized American ace to clinch the finals at 115-81, maintaining the country’s 13-SEA Game gold medal streak in men’s basketball.
Under the brilliant coaching leadership of none other than Tim Cone, the competitive halftime lead by Gilas of 9 points over Thailand would balloon into an advantage of 88-54 in the third quarter. This surge of baskets was courtesy of Fil-Canadian Matthew Wright, Jun Mar Fajardo and Chris Ross. Their scoring led to the national team doing Q3 40 for the Thais’ 15. Cone mentioned the team was concerned by the single-digit lead, but played like veterans to prevent any rally by Thailand from succeeding. This gold-medal victory would be the legendary PBA coach’s first while leading a national team.
Interestingly, the Philippine-Thailand men’s 5×5 basketball gold-medal game was echoed that same day by the women’s team, also called Gilas, which played the Thai women’s team and won in similar fashion. Combined with the 3×3 gold medal finishes last week by the Philippine men and women’s squads in those events, the Filipinos have swept all the highest honors in basketball for the 30th Southeast Asian Games. For Al Panlilio, president of the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas (SBP), this was the best possible ending for the country’s basketball campaign in the SEA Games. The Gilas Pilipinas men’s team has won a total of 18 Gold medal finishes in SEA Games history.
Image courtesy of Sports Inquirer.net