By Riera U. Mallari
HANGZHOU – Whether one point or 21 points, the Philippines has China’s number.
Gilas Pilipinas beat China right at its own backyard and in front a screaming throng of Chinese fans, 77-76, in an Asian Games’ semifinal game that will be retold generations from now and put the Filipinos on the cusp of history.
Nobody gave Gilas a ghost of a chance against the Chinese, who were aching to get back at the Filipinos for humiliating them in a 21-point, 96-75 beating Jordan Clarkson and Gilas handed the visitors during the FIBA World Cup in Manila early September.
After all, China has the tools, the crowd and the organization to get payback in the Asiad as hosts.
It appeared that way as the Chinese, like a well-oiled machine, set the tempo against the Filipinos, leading by as much as 48-30 at the half and looked primed up to score a vengeful win.
But Justin Brownlee, the naturalized player who has endeared himself to Pinoy fans with his never-say-die play, was doing Justin Brownlee things.
Brownlee finished with a game-high 33 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, highlighted by back-to-back treys to put the Filipinos on the lead for good at 77-76 after a long, arduous climb from as much as 20.
The win put the Philippines in the Asiad final for the first time since 1990, when an all-pro team coached by Robert Jaworski barged into the finals, interestingly against China, which went on to win it all via 90-76 victory.
A win by the Filipinos in the finals will end a gold-medal drought in basketball for the Philippines, which last reigned supreme in the Jakarta Asiad in 1962 when a team backstopped by Caloy Loyzaga won the crown.
“It was quite a miraculous win for us,” said coach Tim Cone afterwards.
“We didn’t look like we have any chance whatsoever, but I’m really proud of our players for continuing to battle and continuing to fight and find a way to comeback in,” added the national coach. “Of course, we couldn’t have done it without Justin doing the thing he does.”
The Filipinos will play Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Jordan in the gold medal match set on Friday.