(UPDATED) The Meralco Bolts overcame a poor start and clamped down defensively in the endgame to rally past the Star Hotshots, 72-66, and steal Game 1 of their best-of-5 semifinals series in the PBA Governors' Cup on Sunday at the Alonte Sports Arena in Biñan, Laguna.
Meralco appeared headed for a blowout loss as they trailed by as much as 17 points, 20-3, in the first quarter. But the Bolts slowly but surely crawled their way back in the game and turned it into a nip-and-tuck contest in the final five minutes.
From there, they dominated defensively, forcing the Hotshots into two shot clock violations in the final three minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Ranidel de Ocampo, Jared Dillinger, and Allen Durham hit the big shots to push Meralco ahead.
"It took us a little bit to get our game going," admitted Dillinger, who finished with 15 points and five assists off the bench. "But we just showed a lot of heart, a lot of guts tonight, and we pulled it through."
With Durham clearly hobbled, the Bolts got off to a sluggish start. Star scored the first 11 points of the game, and it took a split at the line by Cliff Hodge at the 5:35 mark for Meralco to finally get on the board.
"It's our fourth or fifth game in the week," Dillinger later pointed out.
Meralco trailed 21-7 at the end of the opening frame, but they were able to impose their pace in the second period. The Bolts outscored the Hotshots, 25-15, in the second frame to enter the halftime break down by just four points, 36-32.
They finally seized a lead in the third frame, going up 43-41 with 6:38 left off two charities by Baser Amer. They still led 47-45 with 1:56 to go after a bucket by Cliff Hodge, before Jiovani Jalalon led the way in a Star comeback.
The rookie guard anchored a 14-0 run bridging the third and fourth frames to turn a two-point deficit into a 12-point lead, 59-47.
But the Bolts simply refused to go away. Durham repeatedly powered his way inside for buckets or drew fouls to shoot free throws. His short jumper with 4:02 left made it a seven-point game, 64-57.
Paul Lee responded with a runner that restored a nine-point lead, 66-57, but it turned out to be Star's last point of the game.
Dillinger and De Ocampo combined for three straight three-pointers to tie the game at 66 with 1:46 left, then Dillinger drove nearly unimpeded to the rim for the go-ahead lay-up with 63 seconds to go.
A Durham jumper with 33 seconds left gave Meralco a four-point cushion, while on the other end, the Bolts snuffed out all of the Hotshots' scoring options.
Star committed five turnovers in the final 4:14 of the game, including a steal by Durham on Lee with 52 seconds left that set up the Meralco import's dagger.
"It was just about making the big shots," said Dillinger. "Luckily for us, we made some big shots."
"The coaching staff had a good defensive game plan, and we limited them to 66 points," he added.
Durham, playing through a sprained ankle, tallied 23 points and 23 rebounds, while Amer scored 10 points. After going 2-of-18 in the first quarter, the Bolts converted 43.39% of their shots the rest of the way.
Jalalon led the Hotshots with 15 points off the bench, while Lee and Mark Barroca had 11 points each. But Star import Kristofer Acox had a paltry output, with only seven points and 16 boards – a far cry from Durham's dominant performance.
Game 2 of the semifinals between Meralco and Star is on Tuesday in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
MERALCO 72 - Durham 23, Dillinger 15, Amer 10, Newsome 7, De Ocampo 5, Hodge 5, Lanete 4, Hugnatan 3, Tolomia 0, Caram 0, Nabong 0.
STAR 66 - Jalalon 15, Lee 11, Barroca 11, Sangalang 9, Acox 7, Simon 6, Pingris 4, Brondial 2, Reavis 1, Melton 0, Ramos 0, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarter scores: 7-21, 32-36, 47-53, 72-66.
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