ALASKA Milk survived a late scare from Meralco to hack out a thrilling 94-91 victory on Monday night in a sudden death at the Mall of Asia Arena and catch the last bus to the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs.
Well aware of what’s at stake, Sonny Thoss, Dondon Hontiveros, Gabby Espinas, and Cyrus Baguio delivered for the Aces, who avoided an early vacation but are now left with a daunting task of facing twice-to-beat top seed Barangay Ginebra in the quarterfinals.
The Bolts’ loss spoiled the fourth-quarter explosion of Gary David, who scattered all but four of his 20 markers in the payoff period to almost singlehandedly carry his team out of a sizeable deficit.
“You commend Meralco, they didn’t give up and we needed to weather the storm,” Aces coach Luigi Trillo said.
David's biggest basket came in the endgame, when he buried a hurried three-pointer from right infront of the Meralco bench then made a free throw from Jvee Casio's last foul for a rare four-point play that brought the Bolts within a point, 89-90, with 51.8 seconds left.
It took four free throws from the steady hands of veteran Dondon Hontiveros, and a miss by David at the other end, to bail out the Aces, who arranged the playoff by beating Barako Bull in another win-or-go-home situation just the day before.
“I’m proud of my guys, but we need to move forward,” said Trillo as he looks forward to the playoff clash with Ginebra in a rematch of last year's Commissioner's Cup Finals which begins on Wednesday also at the MOA Arena at 8 p.m.
Held to six points by the Energy Cola, Thoss threw his weight around this time as he tallied a game-high 21 points along with seven boards, three assists, one steal, and one block.
Hontiveros provided ample support with 20 points, including a three-pointer that gave the Aces their biggest lead at 61-44 in the third quarter.
Unlike the cold weather outside, the do-or-die game was heated and intense as expected as it saw several scuffles, one between Espinas and Cliff Hodge, and another featuring Baguio and Paul Artadi in the first half, as well as eight lead changes and two deadlocks.
Like on Sunday, Calvin Abueva was a non-factor. He picked up three quick fouls in the first quarter as he never establishing anything going. Worse, the sophomore forward left the game in the second quarter with a sprained right ankle.
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
Quarterscores: 15-20, 42-39, 70-60, 94-91