CHANGSHA, China - Tab Baldwin paid tribute to his Gilas Pilipinas players after the vengeful win over reigning Fiba Asia champion Iran on Monday but at the same time warned his players that "this should not be the highlight of our tournament."
Speaking to reporters after the stunning 87-73 win over Iran, Baldwin was quick to emphasize that the rare success over Hamed Haddadi and Co. was the product of the hardwork and dedication of a group of players who embraced one system and in so doing became a team.
"This game was won by individuals playing as a team," the American-New Zealander said after the Philippines' first win over Iran since the 2012 Jones Cup.
Beating Iran is no longer new to Baldwin, who, back in the 2011 Fiba Asia, led Jordan past Iran in the quarterfinals only for the Jordanians to lose to host China in a controversial Wuhan finale.
Although Gilas beat a Tehran side led by Samad Bahrami but with no Haddadi on the way to the 2012 Jones Cup title, Iran has had the Philippines' number even before it beat the hosts in the 2013 Fiba Asia final in Manila.
The last win by Gilas against an Iran team with Bahrami and Haddadi came way back in the 2007 Jones Cup.
Baldwin, however, was quick to calm his troops after the win, saying the focus should be on the championship and he doesn't want the win to be the highlight of Gilas' tournament.
“I was impressed inside the locker room after the game, there’s a lot of humility. Players recognize that there’s a lot of tournament left in front of us,” he said. “We may take care of business tomorrow (against India), may put ourselves in a little better position in the quarterfinals.”
Gilas improved to 3-1 in Group E as it tied Iran for the lead with one more playing date left before the knockout quarterfinal stage gets going on Thursday.
“That’s what we’re trying to live, and we’re trying to come here and get the first spot for the first two pools,” the 57-year-old Gilas mentor said as he tries to lead a Philippine team seeking to win the tournament for the first time in 29 years, and in the process earn a berth to next year’s Rio De Janeiro Olympics.
“The golden egg is still in front of us, that’s what we came here for. It’s not in our hands yet, it’s far from it. Still lots of work to do,” said Baldwin.