(Alonte Sports Center,
3 p.m. – Mahindra vs San Miguel Beer
5 p.m. – NLEX vs Star
The light at the end of the tunnel continues to elude the Alaska Aces.
Handicapped even before they debuted in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup last night, the Aces, who were without import Rob Dozier, fell to the Blackwater Elite, 107-101, in an ominous start at the Mall of Asia Arena for the league’s heartbreak kids.
Alaska completed a historic meltdown from a commanding 3-0 lead over San Miguel Beer in the recent Philippine Cup Finals by losing Game 7 at this same venue a few weeks ago.
But powered by a returning reinforcement who was instrumental in helping them capture their 14th PBA championship three years ago, the Aces had hoped to start their recovery against the downtrodden Elite.
Instead Dozier spent Alaska’s first game on the bench, reportedly with a heel injury suffered in practice a few days ago. In his absence, the Aces had to scramble from 15 points down to get a chance before fading against clutch-shooting Carlo Lastimosa and Reil Cervantes.
Lastimosa led Blackwater with 24 points and Cervantes added 21 off the bench, including a 3-point shot with 7:26 remaining in the fourth quarter that gave the Elite a 95-80 advantage. Noted for their comeback magic, the Aces rallied to within 105-101 with 55 seconds to go but were turned back by Blackwater’s defense on a Jayvee Casio 3-point attempt that set up two free throws by Lastimosa with 8.1 seconds left.
It was a breakthrough franchise victory by Blackwater over Alaska, and the Elite’s first back-to-back wins in two seasons.
“Masarap ang pakiramdam,” said Blackwater coach Leo Isaac. “It feels good to achieve this win; we just have to continue improving.”
Asked if Dozier not playing took away anything from their victory, Isaac flat out said no.
“A win is a win, whether with their import or without their import,” he said.
MJ Rhett, the Elite’s 23-year-old import, was to have his baptism of fire against Dozier, the 30-year-old former Miami Heat player. But with the ex-Memphis University star hobbled, the onetime Tennessee State stalwart had a pass and a triple-double.
Rhett finished with 18 points, 21 rebounds and 10 assists. But he also had seven turnovers against Alaska’s pressing defense and that could factor in the final analysis once the Elite make a decision on whether to stick with him or look elsewhere.
At 2-1, however, Blackwater, off a 110-102 win over Mahindra coming to last night’s game, is likely to keep Rhett in the roster. The extent of Dozier’s injury, meantime, is unknown but is not expected to be serious.
Vic Manuel led Alaska with 20 points as a non-starter, while Sonny Thoss added 18 and Cyrus Baguio, who drilled in three consecutive 3s in the first half when Alaska worked its way back from 13 points down early, had 16 points.
Meanwhile, San Miguel Beer makes its debut today against Mahindra at the Alonte Sports Center in Binan, Laguna, while the Star Hotshots eye their first win after two consecutive losses when they face the NLEX Road Warriors.
BLACKWATER 107 – Lastimosa 24, Cervantes 21, Rhett 18, Gamalinda 12, Cortez 10, Reyes 10, Dela Cruz 6, Canada 3, Erram 2, Tiongson 1, Golla 0.
ALASKA 101 – Manuel 20, Thoss 18, Baguio 16, Abueva 11, Casio 10, Banchero 9, Dela Cruz 4, Racal 4, Eman 3, Jazul 3, Exciminiano 2, Dela Rosa 1, Vanlandingham 0.
Quarters: 27-23; 51-50; 80-70; 107-101.