STAR flirted with danger before coming through when it mattered to hold off Blackwater, 87-82, on Tuesday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum and head into the PBA Governors Cup quarterfinals with momentum.
The Hotshots started cold as they fell into an early double-digit hole against the cellar-dwelling Elite, but found their groove behind a balanced effort led by Marqus Blakely in the second half to score their third straight win and sixth overall in 11 outings.
The result also clinched for the two-time defending champions the fifth seeding in the playoffs, setting the stage for a meeting with fourth-ranked and twice-to-beat GlobalPort.
The Hotshots, though, saw the Elite threaten anew late, before the expansion side finished its campaign having lost all but one of its 11 games.
“That could’ve been anybody’s game in the last few minutes,” Hotshots coach Tim Cone said. “We played with fire and luckily we didn’t get burned.”
Cone, though, has reason to be worried entering the knockout quarterfinals.
The proud Star franchise is 0-4 (win-loss) in playoff games where it doesn't own twice-to-beat advantage. Cone himself is 0-5 under the same situation, according to chief PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
The Hotshots lost their shot at a win-once incentive following GlobalPort’s 117-104 overtime over Alaska in the opener of the double-header.
Compounded by facing an opponent that’s eager to end a disappointing rookie season on a positive note, the Hotshots trailed at the start as the Elite came out firing and led by as many as 11 points, 42-31.
The Hotshots regrouped in the third quarter, where they scored nine unanswered points at one point that saw them grab the lead for good at 61-53.
The Elite, though, made a late 9-2 rally, capped by back-to-back jumpers by Bam Bam Gamalinda to close the gap to just 86-82 with three minutes to go, only to surrender in the endgame.
Blakely led six Hotshots in double-figure scoring with 22 points that went along with 16 boards, seven steals, five assists, four blocks in just 37 minutes.
Blackwater import Marcus Cousin registered 21 points, 13 boards, and two assists without any rest as the American slotman found little local support outside Gamalinda and Reil Cervantes.
STAR 87 – Blakely 22, Mallari 12, Devance 12, Simon 11, Barroca 10, Yap 10, Pingris 4, Taha 3, Melton 3, Reavis 0, Maliksi 0, Pennisi 0
BLACKWATER 82 – Cousin 21, Gamalinda 12, Cervantes 9, Acuna 8, Celiz 7, Bulawan 5, Laure 5, Canada 5, Reyes 4, Erram 2, Heruela 2, Golla 2, Ballesteros 0
Quarterscores: 19-21, 39-46, 67-64, 87-82