Serbia coach Igor Kokoškov and forward Danilo Andjusic both congratulated Gilas Pilipinas for a game well played on Thursday, after they escaped with an 83-76 victory over the young team.
The home team was heavily favored entering the game, its second of the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. But Serbia was never able to take control, as the Philippines remained within striking distance all throughout.
The youthful Gilas squad even took a brief lead in the fourth quarter, and was down by just three points, 79-76, with a minute to go before Boban Marjanovic imposed his will to power Serbia to the win.
"First of all, I wanna congratulate the Philippines on a great game. They played a really good game tonight," said Andjusic, who scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds.
"I would like to congratulate the Philippine team for playing really good, playing together as a unit," said Kokoškov, the former head coach of the Phoenix Suns in the NBA.
In particular, Kokoškov praised Gilas Pilipinas head coach Tab Baldwin, whom he considers a "dear friend."
"Coach Baldwin is doing a great job. Dear friend of mine, I think he's done an awesome job, and I'm happy for him," he said. "I think his team played really together, and they were competing."
The Philippines entered the game as a huge underdog, as Serbia was ranked fifth in the world and featured a pair of NBA players in Marjanovic and Nemanja Bjelica, as well as former NBA player Milos Teodosic. Baldwin himself said that even without NBA Most Valuable Player Nikola Jokic of the Denver Nuggets, Serbia was still an "elite" team.
Moreover, Serbia completely overwhelmed the Philippines when they played in the FIBA Basketball World Cup in 2019, winning 126-67.
They threatened to pull away early, taking a quick 11-2 lead, but the young Gilas squad showed grit in clawing their way back. Serbia repeatedly took double-digit advantages throughout the contest, only for the Philippines to keep rallying.
"At the end of the day, the most important thing is that we won the game," said Andjusic, who admitted that they lacked "flow" all throughout the contest.
"We know our goal, our goal is to win the tournament, to go to the Olympics, and that's what is most important in this moment," he added.
Kokoškov shared a similar sentiment, lauding Serbia for pulling off the difficult win.
"Overall, the goal is to win a game, and we won the game. It wasn't cute, it wasn't pretty, but we got it done," he said.
The complimentary words from Kokoškov and Andjusic were a complete turnaround from the assessment of former Serbia coach Sasha Djordjevic, who said during the 2019 FIBA World Cup that the Philippines was "missing quality."
"I think you (Gilas Pilipinas) showed some balance and quickness. But two European top teams who know how to play tough, physical basketball (gave) results to think about," he said.
Before their 59-point loss to Serbia, the Philippines had absorbed a 108-62 defeat against Italy.