Defeat that rankles

Lito A. Tacujan - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — They won the battle but lost the war.

Despite finishing a fighting fourth overall, which they said is a feat in itself in the 31st SEA Games, the defeat in basketball rankled and festered no end.

They yielded to the Indonesians, 81-85, in Than Tri Gym in Hanoi Sunday.

It took away some of the luster of victories in various fronts as Filipino athletes dug deep in the trenches to wage raging battles for the nation and an impressive finish in team race.

But the real mission was the defense of its most treasured possession – the gold in basketball by Gilas Pilipinas.

This was their war in Vietnam.

The Nationals could slip and crash in other disciplines but almost like a holy vow, never to lose on this one sport that felt like a religion back home.

There’s the streak of 52 victories dating back to 1997 to highlight how the country imposed its will and reigned supreme.

But Sunday they succumbed as Indonesia unleashed impeccable three-point shooting and a 7-foot ex-NBA player in Marquez Bolden for the win.

And the nation hobbled from the best to one of the rest.

The King of the regional hoops was given a royal beating by the Indonesians under the tutelage of former national coach Rajko Toroman.

“Did he spy on us,’’ one fan asked.

He must have found a way to beat the Filipinos as he put in motion a sinister plot that methodically dismantled the beleaguered Gilas’ game.

The Filipinos grappled to find their form amid a sputtering outside offensive and trailed for most of the way with the Indonesians stepping up the pressure on defense.

Gilas leaned on the heroics of Matthew Wright and June Mar Fajardo, who fired 23 and 20 points, respectively, and kept the Filipinos dangerously close at endgame but the Indonesians remained in control to post their tremendous win.

“Obviously that’s on me. I take full accountability and responsibility for it,” said national coach Chot Reyes. “We’ve been saying this from the start. We can no longer treat Southeast Asia (basketball) as a joke.’’

The Filipinos were stymied with poor three-point shooting, hitting three of 16 attempts against Indonesia’s 13 of 31 while Bolden, coming back from injury, made 18 points and 10 rebounds that spelled the difference.

Bolden’s name will be remembered for a long time in local basketball as the man who helped in ending the Philippine supremacy this side of the cage world.

It brought to mind Lee San Min, the Korean youth who drilled the trey at the buzzer that scuttled the Filipinos, 69-68, in the 2002 Busan Asian Games.

The trauma of the shock loss in Hanoi may linger for awhile.

More than losing the gold, the defeat has shattered the myth that the Filipinos are unbeatable this side of the cage world.

Sunday night a new order rose over the horizon that for over 30 years was the Filipinos’ private domain.

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