Saturday, May 18, 2024

Gilas survives Iran, China next in semis

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HANGZHOU—The Philippines survived a major, major scare from Iran to escape with an 84-83 victory in men’s 5×5 basketball action on Tuesday in the 19th Asian Games at the Zhejiang University Gymnasium.

Gilas Pilipinas led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter but suffered a huge meltdown amid the Iranians’ torrid shooting in the payoff period and top scorer Justin Brownlee getting boxed in by a tough Persian defense.

But time wasn’t on Iran’s side and the nationals held fort in the final seven seconds to secure the win and earn a trip to the semifinals.

But waiting for Gilas in the semifinals is China, a team reeking with vengeance from a horrible 96-75 loss to the Philippines in last month’s classification phase of the FIBA World Cup.

Head coach Tim Cone said he wasn’t surprised by the Iranian uprising.

“In the international game, things can turn on a dime, and this did happen in the fourth quarter,” Cone said. “Luckily we had a big lead. We should have never put ourselves in that position, but that’s the way this kind of games are.”

Justin Brownlee was near flawless in the first and led Gilas with 36 points. He made the game-winning basket in the fourth quarter by a box-and-one defense thrown by the Iranians that cuffed him through most of the second half.

“I think we did a good job in the first three quarters. But when they threw a wrench into our plans with that box-and-one, we just kinda struggled,” Cone said. “I think the Iranian coach did a great job bringing his team back.”

“It feels great,” Brownlee said. “Never say die, right? We just kept fighting.”

Fajardo, whose two free throws held Iran at bay 80-76 with 2:17 to go, had 18 points with 8 rebounds while Scottie Thompson added 11 points with 6 rebounds.

Gilas faces host China, which routed South Korea 84-70, in another quarterfinal matchup.

A place in the gold medal play awaits the winner of the semifinal encounter at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

The loser falls into the battle for the bronze medal, a podium finish that would allow the Philippines to duplicate its third place in the 1998 Bangkok Games, also under Cone.

That was the Philippines’ last medal in the Asian Games.

Attacked by the Iranians with a barrage of three-pointers, June Mar Fajardo and Brownlee came to the rescue with clutch hits in the closing minutes.

The nationals held a precarious 84-83 lead after Matin Aghajanpour hit three triples in the fourth quarter and was complimented with conversions from Mohammandsina Vehedi and Navid Razaeifar that gave them their only taste of the lead at 81-80 and 83-82.

But Gilas rose to the challenge and with a Fajardo putback, got the lead back at 82-81. Brownlee than made a difficult baseline jumper for an 84-83 with 41 seconds remaining.

Then came an open three-point shot by Aghajanpour, who miserably missed leaving 17 seconds to go in the game clock.

Gilas called time and Cone set up a four-corner offense to run out the clock.

Cone was behind the Iranian shooter when he launched the potential game-winning three.

“I was literally almost right behind him so I could see the trajectory, it was going left,” Cone said. “When he released it, I knew it was a miss. It was just a matter of ‘can we get the rebound?’ We did, and they chased us around but couldn’t get a foul off us.”

China, Cone said, is a different team now than in 1998 with his Centennial Team in Bangkok.

“We also played China in the semis 25 years ago,” Cone said. “But it’s a totally different ballgame now, so we’ll see.”

A full quarter and a half away from walking back into the locker room and probably admiring themselves in the mirror for a job well done after the Iranians fell behind 62-41, the Nationals turned a little careless with ball possession and paid the prize.

It was still 71-54 for Gilas after three quarters. Then came a torrent of three-pointers from Iran, with five straight points from Vehedi giving the Middle Eastern team its first taste of the lead since 4-3, setting up the heart-stopping finish.

Image credits: NONIE REYES Canon Eos R6

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