TAIPEI - Gilas Pilipinas struggled through three lackluster quarters before finding its form just in time to beat Japan, 75-60, on Wednesday and stay in the title hunt in the 37th Jones Cup at the Xinzhuang Stadium.
Terrence Romeo kept Gilas' head above water three-fourths of the way before Fil-Tongan Moala Tautuaa sparked a game-clinching run in the fourth quarter that sparked a Filipino breakaway.
A hail of three-pointers from Gilas old hands Gabe Norwood, Gary David, Ranidel de Ocampo and Jayson Castro put the final touches to the win, the Philippines' third in four games in this nine-nation tournament.
"The second half was very good, the best basketball we've played as a team," said Gilas coach Tab Baldwin, taking it as an encouraging sign that the team is coming together fine weeks before the Fiba Asia championships.
At 3-1 (win-loss), Gilas remained in the hunt in this annual tournament it last won in 2012, more so after previously unbeaten Iran lost for the first time in five games, 66-81, to a US selection in an earlier game.
Iran, though, rested behemoth Hamed Haddadi in the game against the Americans but coach Dirk Bauermann assured he'll play against the Filipinos in their match-up on Thursday.
But more than staying in the title hunt, Gilas, at least in the second half, looked their best since being formed in August.
Calvin Abueva shook off a wild first half and left his imprint with a couple of hustle plays in the third quarter, when Gilas finally got over an ugly, tightly fought first half marked by sloppy plays and clunkers.
By the time the fourth quarter came along, the Filipinos were already rolling.
Tautuaa made sure of that, slamming down two off-the-dribble dunks that got a sparse crowd on its feet - and broke Japan's spirits. That was followed by three-pointers that broke the game wide open.
It sure felt good, said Baldwin.
"The players really enjoyed it and that's what usually happens when you play good basketball. You win, usually players enjoy the experience of playing good basketball," said the American-New Zealander.
Romeo led Gilas once again with 16 points on 7-of-15 shooting while Tautuaa had 10 points, six rebounds, two assists and a steal while playing extended minutes in Asi Taulava and Sonny Thoss' absence.
Norwood went 3-of-6 from three-point range while David, Castro and de Ocampo each had two in Gilas' finest shooting performance in this tournament. They ended up making 12 of 35 shots from beyond the arc.
Abueva and Troy Rosario combined for 14 boards as Gilas outrebounded the taller Japanese, 45-33.
Gilas 75 – Romeo 16, Tautuaa 10, De Ocampo 10, Castro 10, Norwood 9, David 8, Intal 3, Pingris 3, Rosario 2, Ganuelas 2, Ramos 0.
Japan 60 – Takeuchi 15, Hiejima 12, Furukawa 6, Tabuse 6, Kanamaru 5, Mitsuhara 4, Hirose 2, Arao 2, Hachimura 0, Hashimoto 0.
Quarterscores: 11-10, 29-25, 46-44, 75-60.