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PH Basketball Vs. China: A History Of Heartbreak And Hope

A closer look at the most important games of the intense Asian hoops rivalry
by Jay P. Mercado | Aug 19, 2018
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In the ongoing basketball competitions in the 18th Asian Games being held at Palembang, Jakarta in Indonesia, the hastily-formed Philippine national team finds itself bracketed in Group D alongside China and Kazakhstan, with the top two teams entering the quarterfinal round.

The country once ruled the regional competitions up to the mid-'70s until the PBA was formed in 1975, forcing us to send our best amateur players to represent our team. China also officially joined the Asian Basketball Confederation (ABC) competitions (now FIBA-Asia Cup) in 1975 and won the next five stagings until 1985, where they wound up third behind the Philippines and South Korea. The Chinese continued their domination, winning 11 of the next 16 tournaments.

It hasn't been easy for our cause. While we had our heartbreak defeats against South Korea, beating China has been a pipe dream. We've had several face-offs but almost always find ourselves at the losing end.

FHM takes a look back at the memorable games of the Philippines against the Chinese. Some games weren't close, but these were significant (not to mention, painful), opening our eyes to the sad reality of the wedge in accomplishments between the two countries.

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First, the debacles:

2015 FIBA-Asia

(Changsha, China) China 78-67 PHL

It was a battle for the gold medal, the first time these two teams faced in the Finals of the regional tournament since 1990. The Philippines, coached by the eminent Tab Baldwin, had to contend against a host team determined to qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. China went all out for a win—including psy-war tactics like delaying the team's arrival at the venue and fixing the PHL's ring during the warmups. With officiating favoring the hosts, the Chinese bigs, led by Yi Jinlian and Zhou Qi, tallied 27 points and 29 boards collectively, but it was guard Guo Ailun who topscored for the champions with 19 markers.

1998 Asian Games

(Bangkok, Thailand) CHN 82-73 PHL

Many Filipinos felt that the best opportunity for the country to finally win the gold medal in the Asiad was in 1998, featuring the Centennial Team. With Tim Cone as head coach, plus several months of training together in the United States, as well as winning the Jones Cup, the nationals were brimming with confidence. A huge setback against the Koreans, 103-83 was unfortunate, as we had to face China in the semifinals instead of Kazakhstan. Despite the presence of bigs Marlou Aquino, Dennis Espino, and Andy Seigle, we struggled facing the likes of future NBA players Wang Zhizhi and Bateer Mengke in a competitive game, losing 82-73 and relegating us to the bronze medal game versus Kazakhstan.

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2002 Asian Games

(Busan, South Korea) CHN 92-51 PHL

This game may not exactly be worth remembering, considering the large margin that we suffered. But what made this game special was the opportunity to go up against 2002 NBA top rookie Yao Ming. The team, coached by Jong Uichico, brought the top Fil-foreigner players in the PBA, including future MVPs Asi Taulava and Eric Menk, as well as Jeffrey Cariaso, Mick Pennisi, Noy Castillo, Andy Seigle, and Rudy Hatfield, to collaborate with homegrown talents like Olsen Racela, Dondon Hontiveros, Danny Ildefonso, Kenneth Duremdes, and Dennis Espino. The Philippines was still in contention at the half, down 38-21, but the game turned into a rout, as we couldn't solve the Chinese juggernaut, losing heavily, 92-51. We could've faced them again in the Finals, but lost a heartbreaker to the host Koreans through a last-second three-point shot by Lee Sang Min.

1990 Asian Games

(Beijing, China) CHN 90-76 PHL

When the governing body FIBA allowed "open basketball," where professional players can suit up for their country in 1989, the Philippines was one of the first countries in the world to assemble an all-professional squad for the 1990 Beijing Asian Games. At that time, there was collective belief that the Philippines was the best basketball playing country in Asia except that our best players were in the PBA. With Sonny Jaworski forming the squad made up of PBA superstars Alvin Patrimonio, Benjie Paras, Allan Caidic, Samboy Lim, Hector Calma, and Ronnie Magsanoc, among others, they proved their worth by cracking the Finals for the first time since 1962. Despite having only a two-week preparation and a 65-point loss in the eliminations, the team showed their grit, as Paras battled Ma Jian inside the paint, only to succumb to the hosts, 90-76. It was an eye-opening loss for Filipino fans, as the myth of invincibility was disproven in Beijing.

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And now, the huge wins:

2014 FIBA-Asia Challenge Cup

(Wuhan, China) PHL 80-79 CHN

The FIBA-Asia Challenge Cup may not exactly be as prestigious as the FIBA-Asia qualifiers or the Asian Games tournament, but it's also normal for some countries to send their best teams to prepare themselves in future tournaments. For the Philippines, the team was made up of members of the Gilas national pool for the 2014 FIBA World Cup in Seville, Spain. It also turned out to be Paul Lee's breakout tournament, earning for himself a roster spot in Seville. Apart from leading the team to its first three wins, Lee proved to be the hero in the bronze medal game against the hosts when, behind by two, 79-77, drew a foul from a Chinese player at the buzzer while attempting a three-point shot. Lee canned all three FT's, giving the Philippines its first victory against the Chinese since...

2007 FIBA-Asia

(Tokushima, Japan) PHL 78 CHN 76

With China hosting the 2008 Olympics, they decided to send their Team B instead in this tournament. True enough, they showed their vulnerability, losing all of their three games against Iran, Jordan, and the Philippines in Group A, the so-called Group of Death. We got eliminated with China, but found ourselves facing them again in the battle for ninth place. In a close game all throughout, the Filipinos leaned on their experience, with Danny Seigle topscoring for 20 points to overcome the Chinese, 78-76, courtesy of Kelly Williams' clutch two free throws with two seconds left in the game. While the two wins may have been pyrrhic as we failed to crack the playoffs, then Commissioner Noli Eala acknowledged the team's efforts, citing the two victories against China as a testament to how far this team could have gone if they had the breaks in the bracketing.

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1986 ABC

(Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) PHL 82 China 72

The last time we won a FIBA-Asia Cup title was in 1986, where the main men were future superstars Allan Caidic, Hector Calma, Jerry Codiñera and Samboy Lim, reliables Elmer Reyes, Yves Dignadice, Franz Pumaren and Pido Jarencio, naturalized players Dennis Still and Jeff Moore, and reserves Alfie Almario and Tonichi Yturri. Coached by the late Ron Jacobs, the Philippines was still smarting from the 1983 ABC debacle in Hongkong when we got ambushed via a technicality clause. Back then, the country was aching for vengeance. With China's matchup zone providing some complications, Jacobs unleashed his shooters to weaken the interior defense. And with Lim carrying the team at the start of the second half with a 17-4 surge, the nationals broke away from the Chinese, 65-48, and coasted to an 82-72 victory, with the biggest lead at 74-51 in the fourth canto. Caidic led with 22 points, while Lim tallied 16. Still contributed 14 and Moore chipped in 13 in a balanced scoring attack, making this victory against China perhaps the most memorable in PH basketball history.

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