GILAS Pilipinas survived a scare from Japan, hacking out a 77-71 victory to jumpstart its Fiba World Cup qualifying campaign on Friday night in Tokyo.
The Filipino cagers gave up an early 14-point lead, allowing the Japanese to turn the game around and even take a momentary three-point lead, before finally proving steadier down the stretch.
Jayson Castro showed why he is still Asia's best point guard as he hit the biggest baskets down the stretch, while Roger Pogoy drew a crucial offensive foul on Ira Brown then scored on a breakaway layup that spared Gilas blushes.
Andray Blatche also made up for a sluggish first half with a solid second-half showing that saw him become more aggressive as well as continue to be a facilitator to his teammates.
Gilas returns home to host Chinese Taipei on Monday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum to cap off the first window of the qualifiers this month.
Castro churned out 20 points on 7-of-13 shooting, seven boards, six assists, and one steal in almost 29 minutes, while Blatche finished with 13 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and three blocks, against six turnovers.
Matthew Wright added 12 points on a 7-of-7 clip from the foul line, and three boards, while Gabe Norwood was the other Filipino player in double figures scoring with 10 markers along with seven rebounds, four assists, and four steals with only one turnover in over 32 minutes on the floor.
For a while, it looked like Gilas, 18 spots ahead of Japan in the Fiba rankings, was headed for a lopsided win over the host team as it went on a 14-0 blast after Japan started the game with a three-pointer.
The host team, however, put up a gallant stand in front of the home crowd as came back in the third quarter behind Makoto Hiejima.
Japan came to within three points twice in the fourth quarter, the last at 69-72, following a Yuki Togashi triple within the final two minutes, before Castro retaliated with a triple that proved to be the dagger.
PHILIPPINES 77 – Castro William 20, Blatche 13, Wright 12, Norwood 10, Fajardo 6, Aguilar 5, Abueva 5, Pogoy 5, Ravena 1, Alas 0, Rosario 0
JAPAN 71 – Hiejima 20, Brown 10, Tanaka 10, Togashi 8, Baba 7, Harimoto 7, Shinoyama 4, J. Takeuchi 3, Ota 2, Furukawa 0, Uto 0
Quarterscores: 18-10, 37-28, 59-55, 77-71