Paul Lee knocked down a 3-pointer that stretched Gilas Pilipinas' lead to 20 points against Kazakhstan. The players on the bench went wild. It was down to the last two minutes of the Philippines' turbulent ride to the World Cup.
As important as the impending win in Astana was, Gilas' chances also hinged on the result of the games in the other group of the qualifiers. To advance to the world stage, the Philippines needed either Lebanon or Jordan to lose.
Korea obliged with a win over Lebanon in Beirut, and Scottie Thompson became the bearer of news for the Gilas players. "I was really excited for the game to end because I knew that we're already qualified if we win," he said.
Thompson, who was not part of the active lineup, got regular updates on the ongoing games. He repeatedly asked Filipino reporters seated in the media area near the Gilas bench: "What's the score? What's the score?"
The first few times he asked, the outlook did not look good. While the Philippines were on a roll against Kazakhstan -- thanks to the Andray Blatche show -- both Lebanon and Jordan were also in control of their games.
Halftime came and the situation did not change. It took two and a half quarters before Korea, led by former PBA import Ricardo Ratliffe, managed to overtake Lebanon. Only Thompson and Raymond Almazan knew what was happening.
"Almazan and I were the only ones at the back [of the bench]. He told me to be quiet so that the players could focus," said Thompson. "We were itching to celebrate. We were complaining that the game could not end sooner."
To avoid distracting the players, Thompson and Almazan kept the updates to themselves, at least until the last two minutes of the contest.
"Probably when it was down to the last two minutes when it was a sure ball win [for us], that's when I told them that we're in," Thompson said. "Every time someone gets subbed out, I'd tell him, 'good job, we're in!'"
The players did not openly discuss Korea's win while they were still playing but there were whispers all around the bench.
"When the coaches found out, they told us not to celebrate yet," said RR Pogoy. "It was really hard [to concentrate in the game]. We knew that the other team already lost but we still needed to focus on winning our game. We were thankful that we had a big lead, that we controlled the game."
"I think Scottie had his phone out behind the bench and he kinda let us know," Gabe Norwood said. "For sure the whole bench knew. The guys on the court, I don't think they knew at all."
Lee, who was one of the last five players on the floor, admitted that he knew even before the game ended. He said he probably heard it during the last timeout before he nailed his final 3-point shot.
"I found out maybe in the last two minutes because Scottie was updating us. I think he was checking on Twitter," said Lee. "We were told 'just a little bit more, we'll advance to the World Cup.' It served as an added motivation."
As soon as the final buzzer sounded, everybody on the bench rushed to the court. Thirdy Ravena lifted coach Yeng Guiao on his shoulders while the whole team cheered on. The handful of Filipino fans in Kazakhstan also joined Gilas in the celebration.
"It was an awesome feeling just to know that we accomplished our goal," said Norwood. "It's just a relief that we did enough to get in. Now it's time to enjoy it."