(UPDATED) Gilas Pilipinas bucked a shaky start and survived a nervy finish, pulling off a tight 76-73 victory against Thailand in their first game of the 31st Southeast Asian Games, Monday evening at the Thanh Trì District Sporting Hall in Hanoi, Vietnam.
June Mar Fajardo was unstoppable, making 12 of his 15 shots to score 28 points while also grabbing 12 rebounds. Thirdy Ravena, making his first appearance in the SEA Games, had 17 points, six rebounds, and three assists.
Gilas is seeking a 19th gold medal in the SEA Games and remains the favorite in the competition, but Thailand showed that the Filipinos can't expect a straightforward march to the crown.
Behind a strong start from Antonio Price and Moses Morgan, Thailand led by as much as 10 points in the first half, the last at 23-13 at the top of the second quarter. Gilas worked their way back by maximizing their advantage inside the paint, as the Thais simply had no answer for Fajardo.
The six-time PBA Most Valuable Player put Gilas ahead for good, 32-30, with a three-point play with 3:50 left in the second quarter, and the Philippines took a 38-34 lead at the break. They would lead by as much as 12 points, 48-36, off a Matthew Wright jumper with 6:21 to play in the third period.
However, Gilas was never quite able to put Thailand away. Morgan conspired with Frederick Lish to trim the deficit to just six points, 58-52, heading into the fourth period. In the final quarter, a Fajardo and-1 made it a 10-point game, 73-63, with 3:15 to go but Thailand rallied to threaten until the final seconds.
Price nailed two free throws and Nakorn Jaisanuk drilled a three to halve the lead, before Fajardo scored again to restore a seven-point advantage, 75-68, with 1:13 to go. But Jaisanuk nailed another triple for a 75-71 count with 24 seconds to go, and Thirdy Ravena missed two free throws that left the door open for Thailand.
It was Price who made Gilas pay, racing to the other end for a layup that made it a one-possession game, 75-73, with still 13 seconds to go. Thailand sent Kiefer Ravena to the line, where he made the first but missed the second.
The Thais got the ball to Jaisanuk, who put up another triple that just rimmed out as time expired, allowing the Filipinos a sigh of relief.
No other Filipino reached double-digits, with Moala Tautuaa scoring nine points, including a slam dunk in the first half that re-energized Gilas after their lethargic start. Kiefer accounted for nine of the Philippines' 20 assists.
Price led Thailand with 18 points and Morgan added 15, while Nattakarn Muangboon scored 12.
Gilas will be back in action tomorrow evening against Cambodia.
Philippines (76) - Fajardo 28, Ravena T. 17, Tautua'a 9, Pogoy 6, Ravena K. 5, Wright 4, Rosario 3, Montalbo 2, Go 2.
Thailand (73) - Price 18, Morgan M. 15, Muangboon 12, Lish 10, Jaisanuk 6, Jakrawan 4, Chanthachon 4, Morgan J. 2, Towaroj 2, Chungyampin 0, Klahan 0, Klaewnarong 0.
Quarters: 13-21, 38-34, 58-52, 76-73.