The Meralco Bolts showed endgame tenacity coupled with a crippling defense to frustrate the Star Hotshots, 72-66, in Game 1 of the their best-of-5 semifinals on Sunday night at the Alonte Sports Arena in Binan, Laguna.
The top-seeded Bolts clawed their way back from a 17-point-deep abyss in the first-half and then a nine-point deficit in the last four minutes to draw first blood in the series.
Game Two is set on Tuesday night in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
Allen Durham shook off an ankle injury in Meralco’s last game to once again lead his team with 23 points, with his final basket—a fallaway jumper over Star import Kris Acox—giving Meralco a four-point lead, 70-66, with 33.2 seconds left The reigning Best Import and top candidate for the same award this conference also finished with 23 rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block in 40 minutes.
Jared Dillinger came off the bench to lead Meralco’s locals with 15 points, including three triples, along with five assists and three rebounds. He nailed back-to-back three-pointers in the final two minutes to tie the score at 66-all. He then drove to the basket for a layup that gave Meralco the lead for good with 1:02 left.
Baser Amer added 10 points, four assists, and three rebounds.
Meralco was down by nine points, 57-66, with 3:44 left when the Hotshots fell into a maze of errors, committing six straight turnovers including three 24-second shot clock violations, as the Bolts clamped down on defense.
The Bolts used the turnovers to deliver the goods on the offensive end, scoring 13 unanswered points, including their last two points on Garvo Lanete’s free throws, to finish off the Hotshots.
The come-from-behind victory was the third in Meralco’s last four games. The Bolts did the same trick in their last elimination round game against San Miguel Beer, and then in the sudden death match against Blackwater in the quarterfinals.
Rookie Jio Jalalon led Star with 15 points while Paul Lee and Mark Barroca added 11 markers apiece.
Acox struggled on offense, scoring only seven points on just eight attempts, unable to shake off the pesky Meralco defense. He somehow made up for this on defense, grabbing 16 boards in over 31 minutes of play.
Star started the game like a house on fire, coming up with a 20-3 run. The Hotshots were still in the lead midway in the fourth quarter before the Bolts unleashed their final kick to steal the game.
Meralco 72 – Durham 23, Dillinger 15, Amer 10, Newsome 7, De Ocampo 5, Hodge 5, Lanete 4, Hugnatan 3, Caram 0, Nabong 0, Tolomia 0.
Star66 – Jalalon 15, Barroca 11, Lee 11, Sangalang 9, Acox 7, Simon 6, Pingris 4, Brondial 2, Reavis 1, Dela Rosa 0, Melton 0, Ramos 0.
Quarterscores: 7-21; 32-36; 47-53; 72-66.