Manila, Philippines – The Alaska Aces had three timeouts left and were prepared to spend all three during a crucial inbound play to ward off the NLEX Road Warriors and protect a two-point lead in last night’s playoff game.
But a blink-of-an-eye defensive breakdown on the part of NLEX left Jayvee Casio open for a pre-game layup and the Aces had all timeouts intact in running away with an 82-78 victory for a spot in the knockout phase of the PBA Philippine Cup quarterfinals at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Alaska awaits the winner of the Meralco-Purefoods matchup later, with the twice-to-beat Bolts needing only to win once to arrange a do-or-die with the Aces for the right to face Rain or Shine in the best-of-7 semifinals.
Asked who he would rather meet in knockout, Aces coach Alex Compton said: “Di kami namimili ng kalaban because both those teams caused problems for us.”
The decisive basket happened in a blur with 11.8 seconds to go.
Ahead, 80-78, after a ferocious quarter-long exchange, the Aces called time and Compton used up nearly half of the huddle reminding his players of the number of Ts they had remaining.
“I don’t want a bad pass and I don’t want a jump ball,” Compton said. “Don’t get tied up; just signal for a timeout.”
NLEX center Asi Taulava gave up a delay-of-game call stepping into an inbounding Tony dela Cruz apparently to see how the Aces play was going to develop. But without a timeout left to map out a strategy, the tactic went to waste.
With most of the Aces coming up high to set screens to free a receiver, Casio faked a move away from the basket before suddenly cutting in, catching defender Mac Cardona by surprise as Dela Cruz went for a routine bounce pass to Taulava’s left which the former De La Salle star converted without any challenge.
“It was just a defensive battle,” said Compton. “We haven’t been exactly great offensively. Alam namin na di yata kami mananalo sa shootout so it’s another case when our defense won the game for us.”
Compton paid tribute to 6-foot-9 center Sonny Thoss and 6-foot-6 forward Eric Menk for their defensive work on Taulava who was held down to 10 points.
“Alam ko double-double si Asi so we don’t want to leave someone alone in an island with him,” said Compton, who had a secondary defender coming over from different angles whenever Taulava got the ball at the low post. “The guy leading them was really our concern.”
Menk, acquired recently by the Aces from Globalport after Gabby Espinas went down with an injury, renewed his memorable battles with Taulava from decades back when both were new coming into the league, finishing with eight points, including a tough putback after his first shot was blocked by Taulava.
The Aces established an early foothold on the game, taking a 17-7 lead on the way to several 13-point spreads before settling for a 49-38 halftime edge.
Meanwhile, twice-to-beat teams Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and Talk ’N Text try to arrange a do-or-die match for a spot in the semis as they take on separate rivals today at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo City.
The No. 4 Tropang Texters battle No. 9 Barako Bull at 4:15 p.m., while the No. 5 Kings meet No. 8 Globalport at 7 p.m.
Victories by Barako Bull and Globalport will set up rubber matches for berths to the knockout phase.
Ginebra is looking to avenge an embarrassing 98-77 loss to Globalport and its first-time coach Erick Gonzales last Dec. 9, while TNT is eyeing a repeat of its 122-106 rout of Barako Bull in Binan, Laguna on Nov. 23.
ALASKA 82 – Manuel 13, Baguio 11, Casio 11, Hontiveros 10, Menk 8, Dela Cruz 8, Banchero 6, Thoss 6, Abueva 5, Dela Rosa 2, Jazul 2, Eman 0, Exciminiano 0.
NLEX 78 – Ramos 17, Borboran 13, Cardona 12, Lingganay 11, Taulava 10, Camson 6, Canaleta 5, Raymundo 2, Villanueva E. 2, Villanueva J. 0, Arboleda H. 0, Apinan 0, Arboleda W. 0, Baloria 0.
Quarters: 26-17, 49-38, 63-58, 82-78
MERALCO 77 -Dillinger 14, Hodge 12, Cortez 11, Sena 11, Wilson 8, Hugnatan 7, Buenafe 4, Caram 4, David 4, Anthony 2, Ildefonso 0, Ferriols 0, Guevarra 0, Macapagal 0.
PUREFOODS 65 – Devance 21, Yap 14, Barroca 12, Taha 7, Simon 5, Pingris 5, Melton 1, Alvarez 0, Pennisi 0, Reavis 0, Mallari 0, Gaco 0, Maliksi 0, Allado 0.
Quarterscores: 18-19, 35-30, 56-48, 77-65