Gilas Pilipinas def Japan, sets up finals battle with China

Gilas Pilipinas 3.0 or Philippines Men Basketball Team back in the gold medal game of the FIBA Asia Championship. Gilas Pilipinas turned back a gritty Japan side, 81-70, on Friday to set up a finals duel against host China for the title and a ticket to next year's Olympic basketball tournament. The victory also gave Gilas at least a spot in the wildcard tournament that would determine the final qualifiers for the Olympic basketball tournament next year in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil. Andray Blatche and Jayson Castro once again led the scoring charge for the Philippines, finishing with 22 and 20 points, respectively. But Gilas had a surprise package from 38-year-old veteran Dondon Hontiveros, who scored 18 points on six three-pointers, including big-time buckets down the stretch that gave the Philippines the edge. "It really just came down to our guys making a few plays in the last minute and a half," said Gilas coach Tab Baldwin, who makes his own return to the FIBA Asia gold medal game after leading Jordan to that spot in 2011.

 It was a tense matchup all game long, with Japan staying within striking distance while taking advantage of Gilas mistakes. Hotshot Makoto Hiejima played the game of his life, scoring 28 points through three quarters as Japan played the Philippines to a 54-all deadlock heading into the fourth period. Certainly not helping things for Gilas was the huge free throw disparity. Japan was awarded 29 foul shots, converting 24, while the Philippines shot just 6-of-6 from the line all game. But sparked by the hot shooting hands of Hontiveros, Gilas finally broke away in the final quarter, outscoring Japan, 27-16. Gabe Norwood also made several key plays, coming up with steals while keeping Hiejima scoreless down the stretch. "Very smart team, very tough team. We were very fortunate," Baldwin said about the Japanese side. Gilas is seeking to do one better than its performance in the 2013 edition of the tournament in Manila, where it finished runner-up to Iran. But the Filipinos figure to be underdogs against a talented Chinese squad led by NBA veteran Yi Jianlian and a host of seven-footers, playing before a rabid home crowd. Baldwin, however, is unfazed. "We're going into tomorrow's game playing for the gold. They'll believe that they can do that. After that game tomorrow, China will know that they've faced a tough team," he said
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