A "night-night" gesture would have been a really sweet icing on the cake.
Gilas Pilipinas came to Cambodia in search of redemption.
The national team got it on Tuesday, beating previous tormentor Cambodia, 80-69, in Elephant Hall 2 of the Morodok Techo National Stadium to win gold in the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games men's basketball. The win also avenges the disappointing silver finish in the Vietnam SEA Games.
Like Gilas’ semifinal victory over last year’s nemesis Indonesia, the final was as intense as it was hard-fought, with both teams throwing haymaker after haymaker from the opening tip until nearly the final buzzer. But, unlike Gilas’ shock loss to the hosts a week ago, this game went the visitors’ way thanks to some inspired effort from practically everyone on the roster, notably Justin Brownlee, Chris Newsome, Brandon Ganuelas-Rosser, and Marcio Lassiter.
The much-anticipated rematch started off as a nip-and-tuck affair, as neither Gilas nor Cambodia gave an inch in the opening frame, which ended with the hosts ahead, 22-21. Brownlee and Lassiter, two of the heroes in Gilas’ come-from-behind victory versus Indonesia, carried the fight for the nationals early, scoring 16 of Gilas’ 21 first quarter points.
Gilas pulled ahead in the second canto, with Brownlee orchestrating the offense and Newsome, Ganuelas-Rosser, and Christian Standhardinger all chipping in. Kabayan JB and Super Marcio also added a 3-pointer each as Gilas outscored the hosts 23-11 to build a 44-33 halftime lead.
Cambodia, though, looked to make a move early in the third canto behind some strong inside play from Brandon Peterson, who scored 10 of the hosts’ first 14 points in the second half to claw back to within 52-47 of Gilas. But the nationals regained their bearings to push the lead back to 64-51 to end the third behind timely baskets and solid defense from Ganuelas-Rosser.
The payoff period brought some tense moments for Gilas as it suddenly turned ice cold from the field, allowing Cambodia to once again threaten, 64-59. But Cjay Perez, who had been struggling mightily since the Indonesia game, hit a booming triple from straightaway to give Gilas some breathing room, before setting up Brownlee for another trifecta, also from straightaway.
Gilas would go on to fend off Cambodia the rest of the way to complete its mission of redemption.
Coach Chot Reyes tipped his hats to the national team cagers, who gave their all on the court to defeat the host team, which is laden with naturalized players.
"Players did a hell of a job, they stuck together," Reyes told reporters after the game. "I didn't make it happen, it was the players."
With a return to the top, the Philippines has now won gold in 19 of the 22 SEA Games men's basketball tournaments it joined since the 1970s.
(WIth reports from Paolo del Rosario, One Sports)