‘We’re Gonna Live and Die With This’: Tim Cone’s Faith In The Triangle Pays Off Against Latvia 

While seen as outdated, Tim Cone’s continued faith in the triangle offense fueled Gilas’ upset over Latvia in the OQT.

In the NBA, the triangle offense fueled Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls’ dynasty in the 90s, thanks to Phil Jackson. About three years later, the Kobe-Shaq Lakers would also embark on the three-peat in the 2000s, thanks to Jackson and the same system built on complexity. 

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, the best-known triangle practitioner is none other than Tim Cone. Currently the Gilas Pilipinas coach, Cone has been using the system for over three decades now, which has resulted in his 25 PBA championships. 

Cone has taken this philosophy into the modern era of basketball, where the triangle is often considered archaic against pace, space, and reliance on outside shooting. 

Yet despite this, the triangle fueled Gilas’ 89-80 upset over Latvia on homecourt to open their Olympic Qualifying Tournament campaign in Riga. For all the criticisms, this system built on complexity gives the Nationals a shot to advance further in the OQT.

“I guess I’m still a dinosaur at heart, playing the triangle. I’ve been playing the triangle for thirty-plus years. I was mentored by Tex Winter of the Chicago Bulls, and the Los Angeles Lakers both. And so I just enjoy living on his legacy, keeping it going,” said Cone in the post-game presser, referring to one of the triangle’s innovators. 

“But it’s an offense that I believe in. It gets a lot of critics, especially when it went to the New York Knicks, people really started downing it.”

No less than Latvian mentor Luca Banchi sang praises for Cone’s system, saying: They have an efficient offensive system. It’s not simple; it’s not common, not only in Europe but in general. It’s not common to have teams that run such a system. It takes time (to adjust).”

“I know that the coach [Cone] has been coaching for a long time and sharing these basketball ideas around the country that affect the player’s style and that allow the team to have a very clear identity on a court.” 

But unbeknownst to many, Cone himself once gave in to the triangle’s criticisms, leaving the system for a couple of years during his career. As he explained, if everybody considered it a “bad offense,” then, “they must be right.”

As a true disciple, though, Tim Cone couldn’t resist going back. “I did as much as I could for two years without it, and it’s been my best friend ever since.

“And so when I came into camp with the [Riga OQT] players, I told them, ‘This is what I know best. This is what I can teach best, and so we’re gonna live and die with this,’” he explained. 

The rest, as they say, is history. In the wee hours of Thursday (Philippine time), Tim Cone might have just secured his biggest win with the “outdated” triangle system. 

“People aren’t as familiar at it now than they were [10] years ago, when Chicago and LA was running it…So I’m enjoying running it, and I’ve always enjoyed running it. I’m just proud that we’re able to do something with it,” he said. 

“It’s an offense that if I may say that…plays at a tempo which you can play defense, and that’s why I love it so much. I’m kinda famous for the triangle, but I really feel I’m more of a defensive-oriented coach and that offense just helps me run the defense.” 

Hours from now, Gilas will be taking on Georgia for a semifinals ticket. Heading into the contest, Cone was first to acknowledge additional expectations caused by this very upset. 

“Hopefully we won’t feel that [added expectations]. Hopefully, we can get that communicated to our team that we can’t play to expectations. We can just play the way that we play,” Cone said. 

“Our country [Philippines] is so passionate about the basketball. There is a lot of intense pressure to succeed. And I know it seems like we haven’t been successful but that doesn’t mean anything to our team. They want us to be successful all the time, so we have to turn around and play Georgia tomorrow, three o’clock, early game.

“Our country is going to expect us, especially after winning tonight. They’re going to expect us to win tomorrow, and it’s really going to be a tough job for us to beat Georgia.”

Banner Image from FIBA.  

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