MANILA (FIBA Basketball World Cup 2019 Asian Qualifiers) -The Philippines moved closer to the second round of the Asian Qualifiers after a pulsating 89-84 victory over a gallant Japan in Group B action.
After splitting the second window, the Philippines have won three of four games to sit behind unbeaten Australia, while Japan remain winless.
In another thriller between the teams, it was a game of major spurts with Gilas Pilipinas surviving one last push from Japan to claim victory much to the delight of the capacity crowd at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Japan trailed by double digits for much of the last quarter before storming back into the contest with a late 13-2 run to reduce the margin to just two points with 30 seconds to play. But a clutch Jayson Castro banked layup ended Japan’s brave resistance.
Philippines big man Andray Blatche was brilliant inside with 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Makoto Hiejima was heroic for Japan with 23 points.
An upset looked on the cards when a red-hot Japan jumped out to a 20-4 lead midway through the first before an inspired Kiefer Ravena transformed the game with his spark off the bench.
Incredibly, Gilas scored 37 of the next 43 points to lead by 15 points midway through the second as it appeared the roof of the Mall of Asia Arena might come off such was the noise from the energetic crowd.
Mired on 22 points for seemingly an eternity, Japan did not score for six minutes of game time. Just when they appeared to be falling apart, a determined Japan impressively fought back against the odds to once again stun the home crowd. Attacking the basket, Japan clawed back through a 17-2 run to get within two points moments before half-time.
During a heated contest between the emotion-charged teams, Blatche started to dictate in the third quarter as he powered Gilas to an 11-point lead heading into the last quarter. Sticking with the script, Japan fought back through Hiejima as the game went down to the wire only for the hosts to prevail as the crowd erupted in euphoria.
In the third window, the Philippines and Japan will both travel to Chinese Taipei and host Australia.