This was all about the hustle. The first half was as everyone feared it would be: Jordan scoring easy baskets at will, sniping from the inside, and making life for Gilas hell. The Philippine game plan looked depressingly predictable: pass the ball around the perimeter until someone has a nice three point look, then fire away.
Something clicked in the third quarter. A steal here. A rebound there. A quick basket here. A run here, and the tiny leak in the Jordan pipe burst into a huge gaping torrent. All from transition baskets and Jordanian mistakes. It was all hustle, and therefore all heart.
The crowd can take much of the credit for the third quarter surge. A few plays lit a fire under them and they pushed Gilas to new heights while deeply rattling the visiting team.
Finally, the sixth man delivered tonight after snoozing through much of the Saudi Arabia game.
Special mention to the Ultras Filipinas who led the cheering from the nosebleeds. They even managed to do the “ole ole” chant as time ran out.
Gabe Norwood was deserving of praise. My hoops-addled friend Edge Montero gave Norwood the game ball and I can't blame him. The former George Mason U star did a number on Jordan's Jimmy Baxter.
Amazing fact: Baxter had 27 points after three quarters against Chinese Taipei. Against the Philippines he had only amassed seven points going into the final ten minutes. Norwood's boundless energy and long arms made Baxter look every day of his 33 years.
Jimmy Alapag added to his legend. You can feel it in the crowd when Alapag enters the game. There's a buzz and a louder applause once he checks in. Pinoy hoops aficionados have long memories, and they know all about his past heroics for the national team.
His trey to make it 73-64 with under two minutes to go was the dagger that finally put the game away.
Jimmy Alapag's legend may still have a few chapters to be written.
What a scene outside after the game. Afterwards, several hundred fans crowded around the team bus and interacted with Marc Pingris, who was chucking a few shirts out the window. When Marcus Douthit exited from the building he made it a point to high five as many people as he could. It was as if they had won the entire tournament. Alapag, Ranidel De Ocampo, and even LA Tenorio couldn't help but record the scene with their smart phones.
Gilas must have been tired, but the love showered on them at that moment must have given them an extra boost.
SM Mall of Asia Arena still has to work out some issues. No doubt its an arena that is world-class in almost every way. It's well designed, well-lit, the bathrooms don't have long lines at half time, and plenty of folks fit. Its a privilege to watch there.
Rules are needed for any event, but some of the ones in place in the MOA Arena boggle the mind.
I brought my Azkals scarf and Philippine flag. The lady security guard at the gate didn't want me to bring them in, saying there was a ban on banners, because they blocked the view of other spectators.
She pointed to a few flags that were held at the gate, tagged so that the owners could get them on the way out. While another patron behind me in the line questioned her about the dubious policy, I sped through and got inside.
Not allowing flags in an International Basketball match is the height of idiocy. It is the very symbol of the country. It is what every fan should bring. And besides, a flag is different from a banner. Some common sense in the Arena security personnel is badly needed.
Thankfully I saw several other flags in the arena.
Another gripe: the sound guy kept on playing music during the time outs after a Gilas run. I hated it. It destroyed the momentum of the moment, preventing the Ultras from leading the crowd in cheering.
Remember in the 80s when the Celtics would go on a run in the Boston Garden, the opponent would call a time out and the crowd would be clapping and cheering then they'd cut to commercial break? And when you cut back to the game the crowd would still be cheering? Impossible if you interrupt the rhythm with piped-in music.
The place was not full. Plenty of empty seats behind the south goal. Lots of empties scattered all over. The roped-off section in the middle of Lower Box on the west side was mostly empty. I'm told those seats are reserved for Smart clients. Most didn't show.
If the game is sold out, it should be full, right?
The winning vibe is back. The disappointment of the Saudi game is ancient history. Gilas is back on track and ready to take on Chinese Taipei. They will need help from the crowd.
Taipei stars Quincy Davis and Lin Chih Chieh barely played on Friday as CT romped 90-67 over Saudi Arabia. They'll be rested and ready for a tough battle for the Group A crown.
Follow Bob on Twitter @bhobg333.