Electrified. Stunned. Silenced. You name it.

That’s what the crowd in Latvia felt when Gilas Pilipinas escaped with an 89-80 victory against the host nation team. The Philippines isn’t much of a competitive presence when it comes to basketball, but it does seem that the squad is slated to make a massive rally that will bring it to the top of the basketball world in the coming Paris Games this late July.

The Philippines, which was the host nation for the 2023 FIBA World Cup, emerged with a shot at the Olympics after flipping the script in a snap in the OQT against Latvia. For one, the game ended indeed in a blowout as many experts predicted, just not with the teams that will be on the winning side by the end of the game.

Latvia was an easy favorite to win the game considering that the Philippines hasn’t won any games against European opponents in 64 years. Now the team seeks to end its 52-year drought in the Olympic men’s basketball tournament with a victory in their next game against Georgia.

A Wire-to-Wire Victory for the Philippines

Gilas Pilipinas is not much of a powerhouse team – despite basketball being the most prominent sport in the country. But after some managerial changes, which saw former coach Chot Reyes replaced with veteran master tactician Tim Cone at the helm, it did seem that Gilas would become a team to watch, especially after that gold finish in the 2022 Asian Games.

For starters, this was a massive story for Gilas in ages. The Philippines jumped out to a 32-16 lead in the first quarter and was up by 21 points by halftime after a promising buzzer-beater three from CJ Perez. Gilas had to fight back against some rapid runs from Latvia in the second half, but they responded well in the final moments of the game to keep the home team from pulling off a massive comeback.

Justin Brownlee – who was named Player of the Game – flirted with a triple-double in the victory with 26 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. Kai Sotto added 18 points and eight rebounds and was a solid presence on the rim. The Philippines fielded an impressive triangle offense, which opened up a lot of promising offensive opportunities that saw them build a big lead early in the game.

A Legendary Performance to Remember

No one expected the Philippines to win big in the qualifiers, let alone against a team like Latvia. This was a massive upset for the ages, and coach Tim Cone could not stress enough the importance of this victory that will set the tone for their campaign in the Olympic stage should they get lucky.

"I'm totally shocked to be sitting here in front of you guys after winning this basketball game," coach Tim Cone said. "This is not something we thought we were going to do. This is a big huge step for us to be able to play a Latvia team at home, and go at them face-to-face, and come out with a win. It's amazing, it's amazing for us."

Latvia came out with the home advantage, but they missed out on a chance to salvage their hopes after building on an 83-55 victory over Georgia. The team also missed the services of Boston Celtics star and NBA champion Kristaps Porzingis in the game due to an injury.

The Philippines now sets its eyes as it takes on Georgia later with a chance to seal their chances for the ticket to Paris. A win in their next game will see them advance to the semis and the final, with the lone winner securing the spot for the actual Olympics. Gilas has to either win outright or lose the game by not more than 18 points and avoid a 37-point turnaround in the standings.