Major shocker as Gilas Pilipinas upsets Latvia to end 64-year skid vs Euro teams

Delfin Dioquino

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Major shocker as Gilas Pilipinas upsets Latvia to end 64-year skid vs Euro teams

BEST PLAYER. Justin Brownlee in action for Gilas Pilipinas in the 2024 FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.


Gilas Pilipinas beats a European team in an official FIBA competition for the first time since 1960 after opening the Olympic Qualifying Tournament with a resounding upset of world No. 6 Latvia behind Justin Brownlee and Kai Sotto

MANILA, Philippines – Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tim Cone convinced his wards on the eve of their battle against Latvia that a possible loss to the vaunted world No. 6 squad should not dim their hopes of ruling the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament.

“We’re not here to win a game. We’re here to win a tournament, to win the whole thing,” said Cone.

But the Nationals no longer need to think that it’s an improbable task as they shocked the Latvians on the road, pulling off a colossal 89-80 upset at the Arena Riga on Wednesday, July 3 (Thursday, July 4, Manila time), to boost their chances of advancing to the knockout stage.

Justin Brownlee, who has delivered countless times for Cone since he started reinforcing Barangay Ginebra in the PBA in 2016, came through once more with a near triple-double showing of 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists.

Brownlee hit timely buckets down the stretch to give the Philippines enough breathing room as they held off the Latvians’ fourth-quarter comeback to improve to 1-0 in Group A.

Latvia cut a deficit as huge as 26 points, 74-48, to just 10 points midway through the final period, 81-71, before Brownlee restored order by completing a booming four-point play for an 85-71 cushion with 3:30 minutes remaining.

It was a lead big enough to stave off Latvia, which never saw the loss coming, specially after it gave Georgia an 83-55 beating in its first game.

Kai Sotto backstopped Brownlee with 18 points on 7-of-10 shooting to go with 8 rebounds as the Philippines beat a European team in an official FIBA competition for the first time in over six decades, or since it hacked out an 84-82 escape over Spain in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

“I’m totally shocked to be sitting in front of you guys after winning this basketball game,” said Cone during the post-game press conference. “This is not something we thought we’re going to do, I’ll be honest with you.”

“We wanted to come in and compete and really put on a good show. We got started early. We hit shots early. And thankfully, Latvia missed shots.”

Everything the Filipinos needed to go right did from the get-go as they raced to an 8-0 start, with that lead doubling after CJ Perez sank a long three-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer and give his side a comfortable 32-16 cushion.

Keeping the pedal to the metal, the visitors continued to pad their lead that peaked at 74-48 following a contested corner triple by Dwight Ramos, who chalked up 12 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.

But Latvia, buoyed by the support of its home fans eager to see the team qualify for the Olympics for the first time since 1936, refused to go out without a fight.

A 15-4 run led by Rodions Kurucs to open the fourth quarter pulled the Latvians within 71-81 until Brownlee silenced the boisterous Arena Riga crowd when he knocked down a trey over Janis Timma plus the foul.

Despite committing 5 of its 18 total turnovers in the final three minutes, the Philippines held on as Latvia ran out of time.

Latvia, which shot 12-of-29 (41%) from beyond the arc against Georgia, fired blanks this time, missing 32 of its 42 three-point attempts for a dismal 24% rate.

“There were couple of stretches… that we kind of lost our way a little bit, but it seems like when Latvia was just about ready to make a huge run at us, they would miss an open three-point shot,” said Cone.

“And that’s just one of those nights for Latvia – they just won’t hit shots tonight.”

June Mar Fajardo chimed in 11 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 steals, while Chris Newsome added 10 points in the victory, which came less than 24 hours before the Filipinos face the Georgians at 8:30 pm on Thursday (Manila time).

If it beats world No. 23 Georgia, the Philippines will finish as the top seed in Group A and advance to the crossover semifinals, where it will tangle with the second seed from Group B.

Kurucs tallied 18 points and 7 rebounds for the hosts, who dropped to 1-1 as they badly missed the services of injured guard Arturs Zagars.

Charlotte Hornets forward Davis Bertans, Janis Strelnieks, and Kristers Zoriks put up 10 points each in the stinging loss.

The Scores

Philippines 89 – Brownlee 26, Sotto 18, Ramos 12, Fajardo 11, Newsome 10, Perez 6, Quiambao 3, Aguilar 2, Tamayo 1, Oftana 0. 

Latvia 80 – Kurucs 18, Dav. Bertans 10, Strelnieks 10, Zoriks 10, Smits 9, Lomazs 6, Strautins 6, Dai. Bertans 5, Timma 3, Cavars 2, Mejeris 1.

Quarters: 32-16, 54-38, 77-56, 89-80.


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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.