Gilas makes it to semis in Latvia OQT despite loss to Georgia

There are defeats you rather have to take than risk going for a win.

Gilas Pilipinas did just that. One step backward, two steps forward.

The 11-man Philippine men’s national basketball team masterfully came back from 20 points down and even led by one before stepping on the brakes and opted not to force an overtime and take a 2-point loss instead to Georgia in the Olympic Qualifying tournament on Thursday night in Riga, Latvia.

With the score at 96-93 and 13 seconds to go, Gilas coach Tim Cone made it clear they don’t need a basket. Reason? In this game, they only needed to avoid a 19-point loss after their giant-sized upset of host and world no. 6 Latvia on Wednesday. A loss with a difference below 19 points is enough to shove them to the semifinals of the Latvia Group where the winner gets one of the four remaining slots to the Paris Olympics.

Ordinarily, a team would go for a win or force OT. But going to OT can also mean giving Georgia the chance to win by more than 18 and deny Gilas of a semis berth.

No way, says Cone.

This loss is a win by itself.

With Georgia up by 3 and the win in their hands, strange things happened. They fouled Chris Newsome with about three seconds left — something teams with the lead at the end of games never would intentionally do under normal circumstances. Newsome made the first free throw and deliberately missed the second.

“I should have had him hold the ball and just not even shoot that second free throw and get a violation,” Cone said. “That would have been the smart move. I blanked out, I didn’t think about it. We were lucky we didn’t go into overtime.”

Strange things didn’t end there.

Georgia even attempted to shoot at the Philippines’ basket just to force an OT but was ruled against the book. In the dying seconds Goga Bitadze grabbed the rebound and actually tried to score in the Philippines’ basket but his shot rimmed out.

Gilas naturalized player Justin Brownlee continued to mesmerize the OQT crowd with 26 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Kai Sotto, the 7-3 center of Gilas, limped off the court after a bad fall in the second quarter and never returned.

A day ago, Gilas Pilipinas stunned the partisan crowd as the Filipinos scored huge upset against world no. 6 and host Latvia, 89-80.

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