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Gilas brace for Jordan rematch

Ange Kouame of Gilas Pilipinas powers his way against a phalanx of Iranian defenders.

HANGZHOU, China – This could be a rematch for the ages: Gilas Pilipinas vs. Jordan for the 19th Asian Games men’s basketball gold medal.

And Justin Brownlee vs. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson for bragging rights as the tournament’s best player.

The 2023-2024 PBA season, meantime, maybe four weeks away, but the Gilas-Jordan final should also provide a preview for another great matchup: Barangay Ginebra San Miguel with Brownlee against TNT Tropang Giga with Hollis-Jefferson in the forthcoming Commissioner’s Cup.

However, for now, all roads lead to the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center on Friday, 6 October, where the flag-waving hometown crowd will be on hand at 4:00 p.m. to watch China and Chinese Taipei, upended by two visiting teams, dispute the spoils of war — the bronze medal. Then it gets to choose its pick between the Philippines and Jordan.

The two teams will be equally motivated to claim the glittering hardware.

Jordan has never won the Asian Games title, finishing fourth place twice, including in 1986 in Seoul when it bowed to an all-amateur Philippine team coached by Joe Lipa in the battle for bronze.

So revenge for a long-ago slight could be out there somewhere, for the Jordanians.

The Philippines, on the other hand, last ruled Asiad basketball in 1962, at the tail end of an 11-year reign as champions, and when its current coach Tim Cone was only seven years old and still two years away from moving to the Philippines with his parents.

Payback will likewise be on the Nationals’ mind after Jordan beat them in the preliminaries 87-62 and sent them off down a perilous path against Iran in the quarters and China in the semis.

In contrast, Jordan, having secured an outright quarterfinal berth after downing Gilas, breezed past Saudi Arabia in the round of eight and Chinese-Taipei in the Final Four.

But Gilas survived both missions, weathering a massive comeback by the Iranians to win by one, and then completing an epic rally to beat host China, again by one — with Brownlee figuring prominently in the two victories.

While the gut-wrenching squeaker over Iran was magical enough in its essence, the down-the-wire thriller against China took on an almost miraculous state as both games were decided after the opposition’s best shooters missed dying-second threes.

“This is special,” said Cone, choking on his words. “Twenty-five years ago, China beat me. And, I tell you, to this day that’s the only game where I cried. To come back here and get this victory now is to come full cycle. It’s an emotional time for us and, I think, for everybody.”

Quickly snapping out of the reverie, he added: “But I’m trying to keep an even keel because we got another game, and our goal still is to win the gold.

“We said that from the beginning. I’m not sure we believe we’d get here, but we did say that from the beginning. We also kept saying we want to get back and play Jordan, so we’re back to play them. Now we’ll see what we can do on Saturday.”

Cone went on to gush over Brownlee, who took one unbelievable shot after another from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter, most memorable of which was the stop-on-a-dime, step-back three he took in front of China’s bench that cut the lead to 76-74. Then came that mind-boggling pull-up three, falling away against two defenders for the go-ahead basket 77-76 with 23 seconds left.

“Those last two shots were like impossible,” said Cone. “Guys were right on his face, and I thought there’s no way either of those would go in and both of them go…Boom! Boom! And I was like, wow, we have a shot!

“Whew! Those last two shots…they’re unforgettable. People will remember them forever.”

Jordan waltzed into the gold medal game after crushing Chinese-Taipei 90-71 in their Final Four match, with Hollis-Jefferson leading the way with 20 points.

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