Gilas Pilipinas thwarts Japan to begin FIBA World Cup qualifying campaign

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The Philippine national men’s basketball team overcame Japan in a tough battle, 77-71, to open its FIBA World Cup qualifying campaign with a victory on Friday at Komazawa Gymnasium in Tokyo.

Jayson Castro led the Filipinos with 20 points, seven rebounds and six assists including five crucial points down the stretch to lead the Filipinos who allowed the Japanese to come back from a 14-point lead they established early in the game.

Andray Blatche added 13 points and 12 boards while Matthew Wright chipped in 12 markers as Gilas Pilipinas bagged the first victory in the long journey to the World Cup.

Gilas Pilipinas’ 14-0 run in the first period stunned the hosts as that run propelled the Filipinos to a 24-10 cushion, their biggest lead in the game.

But Japan slowly recovered. Trailing 37-28 at the half, the hosts unleashed a 12-0 run in the third quarter to gain a 40-37 lead.

The Filipinos’ sloppy play in the third period only helped Japan’s cause, but Gilas Pilipinas did just enough to not let the game slip from its hands. Blatche sank a booming buzzer-beating triple to hand the team a 59-55 lead heading into the fourth quarter.

Gilas Pilipinas enjoyed a 70-60 lead with over three minutes left but Japan didn’t go away without a fight, scoring six unanswered points to make it a four-point game.

Castro then showed why he’s considered as one of Asia’s best guards. He hit a jumper and answered Japan’s triple with his own three-pointer to push the Filipinos’ lead, 75-69, with 1:16 left.

A breakaway layup by RR Pogoy sealed the win for Gilas Pilipinas.

After beating Japan, the Filipinos will head back to Manila where they will face Chinese Taipei on Monday in the continuation of the qualifiers.