Alaska Aces spifire JVee Casio drives to the basket against Meralco defenders. The Aces defeated the Bolts, 94-91, at the Mall of Asia Arena Monday night. Photo by Mark Cristino for ABS-CBNNews.com
MANILA, Philippines -- Commissioner's Cup titlist Alaska Milk survived two do-or-die games in two nights as it squeezed out a 94-91 win over the injury-hit but no-quitter Meralco side to grab the last seat in the PLDT MyDSL PBA Philippine Cup playoff stage at the Mall of Asia Arena Monday night.
Sonny Thoss imposed his huge presence at the post in an overpowering 21-point and seven-rebound performance and Dondon Hontiveros contributed 20 markers including four crucial charities at the finish as the Aces hurdled the Bolts to advance to the Final Eight against top seed Barangay Ginebra.
The post-elims play fires off Tuesday with third seed Petron Blaze and fourth-ranked Talk n Text tangling with No. 6 Barako Bull and No. 5 San Mig Coffee in the opener of their respective best-of-three quarterfinals duels.
Meanwhile, Ginebra and second seed Rain or Shine take their first of two cracks at the semifinals versus No. 8 Alaska Milk and No. 7 Globalport on Wednesday.
“First time we won back-to-back this conference and I’m so happy for the guys,” said Alaska coach Luigi Trillo.
“We want to cherish it but we’re battling a team that’s not only popular but very strong, and we have one day to prepare for them.”
Against Meralco, Alaska hardly had time to prepare coming off an earlier do-or-die game versus Barako Bull Sunday.
But the Aces fought with great resolve and survived the wringer.
Thoss, Hontiveros, Gabby Espinas, Cyrus Baguio and Jayvee Casio gave the Aces a big push versus the Bolts in an intense match marred by confrontations between Baguio and Paul Artadi, and Espinas and Cliff Hodge in the first half.
The Aces stayed composed throughout the battle, though, and showed steely nerves in a nerve-wracking finish, overcoming Gary David’s big fourth-quarter explosion.
Just when everybody thought Meralco was done, David went firing, including a rare four-point play pushing Meralco within one at 89-90 with 51.8 ticks left.
But then Hontiveros drained all the charities he had to make in the closing seconds.
The Aces triumphed even with Calvin Abueva again playing limited minutes – this time due to early fouls and an injured right foot.
The 2013 Rookie of the Year awardee failed to return after being helped to the bench by his teammates early in the second period.
Espinas scored on a slam then Casio and Hontiveros knocked in back-to-back treys in a vicious assault opening a 61-44 spread for the Aces in the third quarter.
Alaska actually took the early initiative, 11-2, but Meralco made quick adjustments and zoomed ahead at 18-13 before the Artadi-Baguio incident momentarily stopped the game.
After another game-stoppage following Espinas’ flagrant foul on Hodge, the Aces regrouped, recovered and took the half at 42-39.
ALASKA 94 - Thoss 21, Hontiveros 20, Espinas 16, Baguio 16, Casio 13, Jazul 4, Eman 4, Dela Cruz 0, Ramos 0, Abueva 0.
MERALCO 91 - David 20, Artadi 15, Hodge 14, Dillinger 12, Salvacion 11, Wilson 9, Hugnatan 6, Ildefonso 2, Allado 2, Timberlake 0, Al-Hussaini 0.
Quarters: 15-20, 42-39, 70-60, 94-91