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It’s Gilas vs China for Asian cage title

By: - Reporter / @MusongINQ
/ 05:50 AM October 03, 2015

Fiba Finals Sched 100215_2

CHANGSHA CITY, China—Gilas Pilipinas is back in the Fiba Asia championship finals.

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And standing in its path to the Rio de Janeiro Olympics like a great wall is a big red basketball machine that has ruled the continental hoop scene with a vise-like grip.

Dondon Hontiveros found his range from beyond the arc and Gabe Norwood did the little thing on the other end in the stretch as Gilas Pilipinas subdued Japan, 81-70, Friday night at Changsa Social Work College Gym here.

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The victory put the Filipinos in the championship game for the second straight edition of this tournament. Gilas Pilipinas finished second to Iran two years ago in Manila.

This time, it will play China, which knocked the crown off erstwhile champion Iran, 70-57 in the earlier game.

Hontiveros knocked in a pair of triples under the last 3:32 while Norwood supplied the stops that bought Gilas Pilipinas precious possessions down the stretch as the Filipinos finally beat the fight out of the stubborn Japanese, who were out to snap a string of losses to the Filipinos.

Hontiveros’ last triple gave the Philippines a 77-68 lead with 1:23 remaining, enough cushion to send Gilas Pilipinas to the final, where the winner will book the lone continental berth to the 2016 Olympics.

The Filipinos will be shooting for the gold medal in the Fiba Asia Championship against a most formidable foe and in front of the most hostile crowd to play in front of.

Japan, which kept the game within reach for more than three periods, clawed back from a sudden eight-point lead erected by Gilas Pilipinas as Atsuya Ota sparked a rally that trimmed the deficit to 69-65, 4:29 remaining.

Hontiveros nailed the first of two clutch treys to pad the lead to seven, but Ota moved Japan to within 72-68 with 2:46 left.

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But Norwood helped the Philippines apply crucial stops, bottling up Makoto Hiejima in the stretch to create key possessions for Gilas Pilipinas. The last stop had Norwood forcing a Hiejima miss, setting up Hontiveros’ dagger trey on the other end for a 77-68 lead, 1:23 to play.

In the first semi-final match, China made the first basket and never trailed, with Yi Jianlian, the former Milwaukee Buck in the NBA who totally outplayed Hamed Haddadi, opening up a 56-40 lead with a towering slam going into the final 3:12 of the third period.

Though there were some points where the match was close, the Chinese played with so much confidence that they were able to counter the Iranians’ fearsome international triumvirate by getting contributions from a host of players inside and out.

So dominant were the Chinese in this Final Four matchup that they held Iran to a paltry 29 points in the first two periods, as they stayed on course toward winning this tournament again for the first time since 2011 in Wuhan.

That year, the Chinese turned back Tab Baldwin and Jordan by a point, with the Jordanians being on the losing end of a bum call in the waning seconds.

Meanwhile, a night after taking a beating at the hands of the Filipinos, Lebanon advanced to the battle for fifth place in the Fiba Asia Championship after an 89-86 nipping of Qatar on Friday at Changsha Social Work College gym here.

Point guard Wael Arakji, who found life hard marking Jason Castro in a 70-82 loss to the Filipinos on Thursday night, scattered 21 points with big man Bassel Bawji shooting 18 that went with seven rebounds for the Lebanese.

Castro, who looks to be a shoo-in for a second straight Mythical Team inclusion at the point guard spot, dropped 25 points on the Lebanese defense—most of them in the face of Arakji.

South Korea, a member of the Final Four cast in the last edition held in Manila in 2013, will be the Lebanese’s foe in the game for No. 5 after handling tall India with ease, 117-72, earlier.

The Koreans, who were bundled out by defending champion Iran also on Thursday, opened a big lead with several spurts in the second period before pulling away completely in the third canto.

That game is slated on Saturday at 4:45 p.m., with the Indians and the Qataris battling it out for seventh and eighth positions in the 2:30 p.m. contest.

Clinton Johnson paced the Qataris with 29 points, playing all but two minutes of the game, unlike in their 81-67 quarterfinal loss to Japan where coach Fragkias Vasileios played him sparingly in the first half where he was held to eight points.

Johnson, who scored 32 points in a 69-63 win over South Korea on Sept. 28, missed a triple double by just four assists after also leading the Qataris in rebounds with 10.

It was the second straight loss for the Qataris, who qualified for the knockout stages as the No. 2 seed in Group F and were seen as a strong Final Four candidate only to trail big early and eventually get derailed by the Japanese.

Amir Saoud, another guard, tossed in 14 points for the Lebanese, who also got five assists from Arakji.

Korea came here without outside gunner Kim Min-goo and the bean-pole veteran Oh Se-keun. The team will try to salvage whatever is left of its tournament with a win over the Lebanese.

Only a total of nine players played for coach Kim Dong-kwang, but only one—Moon Seoun-ggon—failed to score in twin digits for the Koreans, the Filipinos’ victims in the Final Four in Manila.

Yang Dong-geun, the team skipper and the heir to Kim Min-goo, took a much-needed breather against the Indians, who were paced by the 24 points of Amjyot Singh.

A Korean reporter obviously disappointed at the fortunes of his national team here said that Kim has gone back to playing but is very far from the form that made him the top offensive weapon of Korea.

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TAGS: Asian Cage Title, Changsa City, China vs Philippines, Dondon Hontiveros, Fiba Asia Championship, Gilas Pilipinas, Rio de Janeiro Olympics
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