Slow starts aren't new to Gilas Pilipinas in this qualifying phase of the 2019 FIBA World Cup.
Strong, decisive finishes are.
June Mar Fajardo came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points, Jayson Castro added 15 and Gilas Pilipinas overcame an early deficit to beat Chinese-Taipei 93-71 at Taipei Heping Basketball Gymnasium on Friday.
With the win, the Philippines upped its record to 4-1, setting up a key match-up against Australia with first place in Group B at stake.
Australia, stunned 79-78 by Japan in Chiba city early in the night, dropped to 4-1.
The Gilas-Boomers game is at Philippine Arena in Bulacan on Monday. Game time is set at 7:30 p.m.
After grabbing the lead early, Chinese-Taipei fell by double digits to the superior Gilas side but remained a threat until midway through the fourth quarter.
After a 3-pointer by forward Cheng-Ju Lu closed the gap to 78-69 with 6:31 left in the game, the visitors asserted themselves on both ends of the floor from that point on, closing the game on a 15-2 run to sweep their home-and-away series with Chinese-Taipei.
Gilas coach Chot Reyes anticipated the hosts bursting out of the gates and emphasized to his players composure.
"Due to some good preparation coming to this game we knew (Chinese-Taipei) would start like a house on fire," Reyes said in a TV interview on ESPN 5.
"We said, 'Let's be patient.' When they start strong, let's not lose sight of what we want to do. So I think when Taipei started out like that we were more less ready and we just stayed in our game plan."
Andray Blatche finished with a double-double (13 points, 12 rebounds) to go with 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks, while Terrence Romeo, returning after missing 2 games for Gilas, contributed 14 points and 6 assists.
Blatche, who hadn't played top-level basketball since the February window of the qualifiers, played a team-high 33 minutes.
Chinese-Taipei forced Gilas on the ropes in the first half with its hot outside shooting, but once the Filipinos tightened their defense the tide began to change.
Trailing 33-26 in the second quarter, the Filipinos closed out the half with an 18-4 run, limiting Chinese-Taipei to just one field in 6 minutes to go up 44-37 at the break.
"The second unit got us back in," said Reyes, whose side led after the first quarter just once in four previous qualifying games.
The difference this time for Gilas, however, was its calculated aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, bum-rushing the home team in the second and fourth quarters that led to its most lopsided win of the tournament.
The Philippines outscored Chinese-Taipei in the paint (50-20), off the bench led by Fajardo and Romeo (51-33), and off turnovers (28-6).
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