He finally beat China in the Asian Games.
Tim Cone looked utterly exasperated from the bench. Gilas Pilipinas just committed a crucial five-second inbound violation off a timeout with only 3:21 left in the fourth quarter.
It was a spirit-deflating error, as Gilas Pilipinas was trying to make a furious fightback against China in the semifinals of the Asian Games. But Cone, who's probably seen it all in his vast experience, regained his poise and continued to steer his wards.
When the final buzzer blared, Cone's face was of sheer relief. They survived by a hairline, 77-76, to advance to the gold medal match of the quadrennial conclave for the first time in 33 years.
After the game, not even Justin Brownlee's magical touch could've made Cone's smile disappear.
"What a miracle that was," said Cone, as he shook his head in utter awe. "Truly, it was a miracle. I can't even imagine it happening that way. The guys just kept battling and battling."
His wards didn't give up because he never did. Even in the face of what seemed like an insurmountable 20-point lead against the host team in front of a hostile crowd, Gilas Pilipinas didn't fold.
One would think that the winningest coach in the PBA has a tactic for anything. But the 65-year-old Cone admitted that it was the players who did all the work as they tried to mount an inspired comeback. It helped a lot that the squad had Brownlee, who delivered another epic performance.
"There's nothing I'm doing out there, there's nothing I'm even doing in the dugout except at yell everybody. They're amazing. Amazing. Great character to follow up that Iran game (in the quarterfinals)," said Cone.
While being interviewed on the court, Cone kept waving at several supporters from the crowd who were cheering him on. He yelled, "Tsamba!" Normally, he doesn't get distracted when talking to reporters. But this was an exception. A totally happy one at that.
"I still can't get over this one. I can't believe I'm talking to you guys," said Cone jokingly, referring to a couple of media personnel. "I should be crying in the locker room right now."
Cone shouldn't even be in the locker room in the first place. He said he didn't want the job. After the FIBA World Cup, where he served as deputy tactician, Cone said he'll go if then-coach Chot Reyes goes. But he had a change of heart, as the call of duty was too much to ignore.
It was also a risky move. They had little time to prepare. There were roster issues. Nothing was ideal for Gilas Pilipinas heading into the Asian Games. Cone could've just stayed home. Still, he embraced the role.
After the gutsy win over China, Reyes paid his longtime peer the ultimate praise.
"What an amazing job this guy has done, amid all the challenges and difficulties. So proud of you, Tim," wrote Reyes on his Instagram Story, which included a picture of Cone.
Reyes and Cone have been in the trenches together with different iterations of the national team in the past. It was Reyes who urged Cone to take over and steer the ship in the Asian Games. Clearly, despite the short notice, he's done it excellently.
Not tsamba at all.
(With reports from Carlo Pamintuan, One Sports)