BIÑAN — Meralco made up for a sluggish start with another sensational finish, frustrating Star, 72-66, to gain the head start in their PBA Governors' Cup semifinal series on Sunday night at the Alonte Sports Arena.
The Bolts erased an early 17-point deficit and still as many as nine points inside the last four minutes, turning to Allen Durham and Jared Dillinger down the stretch to take Game One of the series.
Game Two of the best-of-five series is on Tuesday night in Sta. Rosa, Laguna.
"It's always gonna be a defensive struggle with Star," Bolts coach Norman Black said.
"They really hit us hard in the beginning of our game and took us out of our offense."
"Luckily for us, our defense held up and kept us in the game and eventually, our shots got falling and that gave us in the game," he added.
The Bolts indeed clicked on both ends when it mattered, holding the Hotshots scoreless in the last three minutes and 44 seconds - in a span where they forced three shot-clock violations.
The Bolts' offense also connected in the endgame of a low-scoring battle as they scored 13 unanswered points to finish the game, two on a Dillinger layup that gave them the lead for good at 68-66 with a minute and two ticks left, and another two on a Durham fallaway with 33.2 seconds to go to give them a two-possession lead.
Durham poured in another workmanlike effort, finishing with 23 points, 23 boards, four assists, one steal and one block in 40 minutes, while Dillinger added 15 points.
Star started the game on a 20-3 run, but succumbed to the Bolts' suffocating defense down the stretch to get left playing catchup in Game Two.
The Bolts' defense was evident on Star import Kris Acox, who was held to just seven points on just eight attempts, although he grabbed 16 boards in almost 32 minutes.
It was the Bolts' third come-from-behind win in a span of just one week after they fought back from 18 points down against San Miguel in their eliminations closer and 12 versus Blackwater in the rubber match of their quarterfinal matchup.
Meralco 72 - Durham 23, Dillinger 15, Amer 10, Newsome 7, De Ocampo 5, Hodge 5, Lanete 4, Hugnatan 3, Caram 0, Nabong 0, Tolomia 0.
Star66 - Jalalon 15, Barroca 11, Lee 11, Sangalang 9, Acox 7, Simon 6, Pingris 4, Brondial 2, Reavis 1, Dela Rosa 0, Melton 0, Ramos 0.
Quarterscores: 7-21; 32-36; 47-53; 72-66.