After starting hot, Gilas Pilipinas nearly got burned by a determined opponent.
The visitors' big man, small man combination made sure their first game in these FIBA World Cup qualifiers didn't go up in smoke.
Jayson Castro scored 20 points and Andray Blatche added 13, including timely 3-pointers by them in the second half, as Gilas Pilipinas downed Japan 77-71 in Tokyo on Friday.
After stymieing the hosts in the first quarter, coach Chot Reyes and his crew were set back on their heels after halftime, losing a 14-point lead as Japan stepped on the gas.
Even when they re-erected a double-digit lead in the fourth, Gilas couldn’t shake off the pesky Akatsuki 5 at Komazawa Olympic Park.
A 3-pointer by Blatche at the buzzer to end the third quarter gave Gilas some breathing room at 59-55.
Another Blatche triple and an assist to June Mar Fajardo for a bucket put the Philippines up 70-60 in the fourth.
Japan rallied to make it 72-69 capped by Yuka Togashi’s 3-pointer, but Jayson Castro doused the home team’s comeback try with a triple of his own 1:16 left in the game.
RR Pogoy iced the game with an uncontested layup with 30 seconds remaining.
Blatche’s shooting was mediocre, but his defense was solid, registering 12 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks, while Castro chipped in 7 rebounds and 6 assists.
Matthew Wright added 12 points, and Gabe Norwood had 10 points, 7 rebounds and 4 steals for Gilas, which took advantage of an erratic start by Japan.
The Philippines didn't allow Japan to score a field goal during a 7-minute stretch in the first quarter to take a 24-10 lead.
Down by 9 at the break, Japan mounted a 16-6 run in the third to go up 44-43, before engaging higher-ranked Gilas in a see-saw game.
The Japanese guards, led by Makoto Hiejima, were relentless attacking Gilas' defense.
Hiejima finished with a team-high 20 points, Daiki Tanaka added 10 points and 3 3-pointers, and Togashi chipped in 8 points and a pair of triples.
Ira Brown, Blatche's counterpart, contributed 10 points, 15 rebounds, 2 steals and 2 blocks.
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