By JOSEF T. RAMOS REPORTER
Veteran Dondon Hontiveros in one his best performances sent the Philippines back to the finals of FIBA Asia Championship after Gilas beat Japan 81-70 in the semifinals on Friday night at the Changsha Social Workers Gymnasium in Changsha, China.
The 38-year-old Cebuano shooting guard posted six triples for 18 points despite committing four fouls.
The Philippines will meet host China in the finals on Saturday night.
Gilas emerging as champions means an automatic slot in the Olympics in August 2016.
It will be the Philippines’ second consecutive appearance in the FIBA Asia Championship finals after finishing second in the 2013 edition of the meet.
The 6’11 naturalized Filipino Andray Blatche notched the highest score for the Philippines with 22 points via 9-of-21 shooting in the field plus 13 rebounds and a steal. Jayson Castro added 20 points plus seven assists and two steals.
Forward Ranidel De Ocampo provided additional firepower with eight points, seven rebounds, two blocks and two assists.
Despite struggling early in the game, Gilas bounced back in the second half.
After a 54-all deadlock in the third quarter, Hontiveros scored a three-pointer followed by Castro’s jumper that gave the Philippines a 59-54 lead with still 8:49 to go.
The Japanese narrowed the gap at 68-72 after a split free throw by Atsuya Ota with only 2:45 to go but it wasn’t enough to foil Gilas’ onslaught.
De Ocampo’s jumper, Hontiveros’ trey and the two free throws of Blatche stretched the Philippines’ lead to 79-68 with only 49 seconds left before the final buzzer.
Though Japan posted more rebounds (37-41) and done well in free throws (29-6), the Philippines dominated the three-point zone (13-0). The Japanese had a hard time beyond the arc missing all 13 attempts.
Makoto Hiejima led Japan with 28 points and seven rebounds.
Overall, Gilas had a higher field goal shooting percentage (45.6%-36.5%) and had more steals (5-7) and assists (13-7) than the Japanese.
In the other semifinals match, host China routed Iran 70-57.