Ignacius Carell Cruz

Six decades after the 1960 Rome Olympics victory against Spain, the Philippines pulled a shocker and finally beat another European powerhouse – Latvia.

Photo Courtesy of FIBA.

Justin Brownlee drove the Philippines in its winning bid, dropping 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists, including a game-sealing four-point dagger late in the payoff period, stunning the World No. 6 Latvia on their homecourt in the FIBA Olympic Qualifiers in Riga on Thursday.

“We did not come here to win a game. We came here to win the whole thing,” said triangle offense mastermind and head coach Tim Cone.

Gilas, with its winning spirit, were off to a fiery start after an 8-0 run while maintaining their unforgiving defense and spotless execution inside the paint to establish a respectable lead against Latvia early in the first frame.

CJ Perez then hit a three-pointer from way beyond the white line as time expired to cap off a historic first quarter performance and secure a 32-16 advantage against the hosts.

Gilas continued the dominant execution on both ends of the floor which proved to be overwhelming for the hosts as Gilas fended off a surge of Latvian scoring in the second quarter courtesy of Brownlee’s timely buckets.

Before halftime, it was visible that the Latvians were getting frustrated after a technical foul followed by a Dairis Bertans’ unsportsmanlike penalty on Japeth Aguilar which then allowed Gilas to maintain a 16-point cushion, 54-38.

After the break, the margin continued to widen to as much as 26 points as Latvia, who hit an outstanding 12-29 from three against Georgia, suddenly went ice-cold and was limited to 10-42 shooting from beyond the arc by the Filipinos.

In the final quarter, the inevitable comeback from Latvia was spearheaded by Rodions Kurucs after a 15-4 run to bridge the gap for the heavy favorites and mount the pressure on the seemingly tired Filipinos.

Latvia had the chance to inch closer but the shocked and confused faces of their home crowd told the story of the night as they kept missing wide-open three pointers giving Gilas the much needed breather.

Brownlee and Chris Newsome’s late game heroics finally shut the door against Latvia to bag the monumental win for the Philippines that has caused waves in the global basketball community overnight.

“I’m totally shocked to be sitting in front of you guys after winning this basketball game. This is not something we thought we were going to do, I’ll be honest with you,” said Cone, who also led the Philippines to its first Asiad Gold in basketball last year after over six decades.

The twin towers of the Philippines proved to be unstoppable as the much matured Kai Sotto scored 18 markers and 8 rebounds, while seven-time PBA MVP Junemar Fajardo added 12 more to punish the poor interior defense of the Latvians.

Meanwhile, the dynamic backcourt composed of the reigning PBA Philippine Cup Finals MVP Newsome, who put up 10 points, and Dwight Ramos who tallied 12 markers, including multiple buckets before the shot clock expired, gave Gilas the much needed firepower against the tall guards of Latvia.

The Philippines was able to address some of its woes from previous games as they outrebounded the hosts, 43-34, and posted outstanding percentages from the charity stripe, hitting 20 of 22 of their free throws, and from the three-point line, scoring 45% of their 20 shots.

Gilas will then look to secure the top spot in the group and increase their chances of qualifying in the 2024 Paris Summer Olympic Games when they face Georgia on Thursday evening.