MANILA, Philippines—In 2017, the Philippines won two games against Myanmar by an average margin of 101 points.
First, it was a 147-40 demolition in the SEABA Championship, a game that saw the crowd at Araneta Coliseum wait anxiously for Gilas Pilipinas to lead by 100 points. A few months later, a young Gilas Cadets squad clobbered Myanmar in the Southeast Asian Games, 129-34.
Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise that Myanmar managed to stay in step with an all-pro Gilas squad in the 2019 SEA Games. Buoyed by a hot start from Aung Myint, Myanmar trailed by just eight points 32-24 after the first quarter.
Gilas pulled away in the second period, yet they never led by as many as their 2017 counterparts did. Their largest lead was 72 points with a little more than two minutes left, and they settled for a 69-point margin of victory, 136-67.
Afterward, Gilas coach Tim Cone acknowledged that his players initially struggled to find a balance between respecting the game and their opponents, and at the same time, not running up the score.
"Obviously, there's a big gap in talent between the two teams," said Cone. "But the SEA Games are all about competition and friendship. You compete through friendship. You try to gain friendships. You're not trying to create enemies in the SEA Games."
The last thing that Cone and Gilas wanted to do was to humiliate their opponents, and for the first 10 minutes they didn't quite know how to avoid that, and at the same time, play their own game.
"We want Myanmar to keep coming back and keep wanting to play and keep wanting to improve their basketball program. We don't want to discourage them, and no one likes to be embarrassed. No one likes to be humiliated," said Cone.
"We just tried to be respectful and try to continue to play the game hard, create good habits going to the next game, and again, not try to run up the score."
Gilas wound up "taking it too easy" in the first quarter, which the exact opposite of what Cone wanted to happen. The Filipinos allowed Aung to get the shots that he wanted, and that gave the entire Myanmar team confidence.
It was in the second quarter that Gilas began to figure it out. They worked the ball to Marcio Lassiter and Matthew Wright behind the arc, and they responded by drilling a combined 10 3-pointers. Troy Rosario and Vic Manuel were unstoppable inside the paint.
They scored 45 points in the second quarter to take control of the game, and Myanmar never recovered.
"But," said Cone, "we tried to not fastbreak too much, tried to slow the game down, so again we wouldn't keep running up that score higher and higher and higher."
"That wasn't our purpose. Our purpose was to go out, use this game to get ready for the next one, and show respect to our opponent," he added.
Myanmar wound up scoring a tournament-high 67 points, but Cone had no complaints as Gilas answered his challenge.
"The guys were really trying to feel their way early in the game, of how hard they should go at them, and they didn't wanna make them look bad right from the beginning," he explained.
"I think they just a hard time figuring out the balance as they went along. But once they realized it was okay to play hard, then they started playing hard."
Most importantly for Cone, the win over Myanmar allowed his squad to stay sharp heading into a semifinal match-up against a dangerous Indonesian team. They play the Rajko Toroman-coached squad on Monday for a spot in the gold medal match.
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