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Gilas Pilipinas downs Cambodia in grudge final to reclaim basketball gold

by Agence France Presse

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia– Gilas Pilipinas avenged the disappointment of an opening-game defeat and reasserted their Southeast Asian Games dominance, beating hosts Cambodia on Tuesday to clinch men’s basketball gold.

They beat Cambodia 80-69 in a pressure-cooker final in Phnom Penh, with 23 points from star man Justin Brownlee.

Coach Chot Reyes hoped the public pressure on him might ease in the basketball-mad Philippines, which prizes its traditional SEA Games dominance.

“At least we get a reprieve from the people,” he told reporters courtside.

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The Philippines arrived in Cambodia aiming to take revenge on Indonesia, whose surprise win in the final at the 2021 Hanoi Games -– played in 2022 because of the Covid pandemic -– ended their 20-year golden streak.

However, it was Cambodia who emerged as their toughest foes this time, beating them in the group stage with a new-look squad controversially composed by coach Harry Savaya of mostly naturalised players.

While many teams have used imported players at the SEA Games, lineups are rarely so devoid of home-grown talent.

Savaya incensed the Philippine bench during that shock opening win by tilting his head onto his hands in a “night night” gesture as he called a late-game timeout.

The heat inside the non-air-conditioned basketball venue added to the gripes of the Philippine management.

The venue, filled with a partisan home crowd, was sweltering on Tuesday as Cambodia ended the first quarter with a 22-21 lead.

But the outnumbered Philippine fans made themselves heard as their side battled to a 44-33 half-time lead, thanks to 15 points from Brownlee.

The visitors then mostly held Cambodia at bay throughout the third and fourth quarters.

Savaya was a kinetic presence on the sidelines, the Lebanese-Armenian coach whipping up the home crowd. He even danced after his team shot a particularly nice three-pointer.

But the Philippine fans gleefully returned his infamous “night night” gesture as the clock ticked down and their victory became inevitable. Savaya met it with a resigned laugh.

Reyes said he felt “happiness” at the final buzzer. “It’s just relief.”

“Very happy for the Filipino people,” he added.

Thailand beat Indonesia 83-69 in the bronze-medal match, thanks to 21 points from Martin Breunig.

Cambodia had already won the men’s basketball 3×3, beating the Philippines in the final more than a week ago.

© Agence France-Presse

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