Brownlee says Gilas up to task of taking down China in Asian Games semis

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Gilas Pilipinas in the 19th Asian Games in Hangzhou, China. –POOL PHOTO

As the Philippines watched its sizeable lead get shredded by Iran’s young guns, Gilas Pilipinas turned to its poise, and—to nobody’s surprise—its indefatigable ace to avoid what would’ve been an unforgivable collapse in the 19th Asian Games men’s basketball tournament.

The ever-reliable Justin Brownlee hit a tough floater with 44 ticks remaining to cap a sensational outing and tow the Nationals past the Iranians, 84-83, for a spot in the continental meet’s Final Four—their first in over two decades.

With that, the Filipinos will thus take a winning feeling going into a semifinal clash with an old regional tormentor that’s out for redemption, and coach Tim Cone knows that they cannot play the same way when they battle China for a place in the gold medal match.

“We’re gonna walk out of this game with a little sour taste in our mouths [after] blowing a 20-point lead,” Cone said in an interview with One Sports. “But the bottom line was we found a way to win down the stretch.”

Having a fourth quarter sputter like that, however, won’t cut it on Wednesday night, when the Philippines battles a China side that it bamboozled in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup last month in Manila.

World Cup team

Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone in the Asian Games

Gilas Pilipinas coach Tim Cone. –ASIAN GAMES POOL

Team Dragon will feature nine players from that squad, eager to give the home crowd a show at 8 p.m. at Hangzhou Olympic Centre Gymnasium, where the Chinese have been perfect with four straight games, including an 84-70 conquest of South Korea in their side of the quarterfinals.

They have been shooting with deadly efficiency with a 50.6 percent clip from the field for an average of 89.3 points— both the finest for any team in the Asian Games.

The Chinese are also known to maximize everything at their disposal as hosts, and Brownlee, after finishing with 36 points against the Iranians, said they will be ready.

“Man, it’s gonna be another tough, hard-fought game,” Brownlee said. “We’re ready. I’m sure they’ll be ready. [They’re] hosting the Asian Games this year and they’re doing an incredible job so we know their fans are gonna come out and show great support.”

If at all, winning in the manner they did against the Iranians gives the Filipinos the confidence boost they need.

“Never say die. We just wanted to keep fighting. In the Philippines, that ‘NSD’ spirit means a lot, so we just wanted to keep showing that spirit even though we were tired, we were down,” Brownlee went on. “We just wanted to continue fighting.”

Six-time PBA MVP June Mar Fajardo added 18 that went with eight rebounds to help the Philippine cause against Iran, while Scottie Thompson chipped in 11 points and six boards for the hastily assembled Gilas squad that hopes to deliver the country’s first Asian Games medal since Jong Uichico and his pro-laden crew did it back in 2002.

Big lead blown

Gilas enjoyed leads as big as 21 points in the first three quarters, but the dominant form that manufactured that edge was nowhere to be found in the payoff frame as Matin Aghajanpour and Mohammad Vahedi joined hands in a cutthroat fightback that had Iran taking an 81-80 lead entering the final minute.

“They kind of struggled early, but you could just see how good a team they are in that fourth quarter and how well-coached they are to just stay with it even though they [were] down big and just coming back and giving us a hard-fought game until the end,” Brownlee explained.

“They shot the lights out in the fourth quarter, we didn’t expect that,” Cone said. “[And] when they got momentum, we made a lot of turnovers.”

Cone had said sometime after a lopsided loss to Jordan that a 30-point loss is the same as a one-point defeat.

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Winning in whatever way is the same, and that’s obviously their mindset going into the China match.

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