Combo guard RJ Jazul led Alaska to an impressive 97-94 come-from-behind victory over Meralco in Game 1 of the best-of-five semifinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Season 41 Commissioner’s Cup at the Araneta Coliseum on Monday.
Jazul tallied seven of his 18 points in the crucial fourth quarter in addition to three steals and two assists. Calvin Abueva finished with 15 points and six rebounds for the Aces.
“I told our guys this will be a tough series,” said Alaska coach Alex Compton during the postgame interview. “There are things that Jimmy [Alapag] brings to that team, the way they play and their character.”
Veteran Cyrus Baguio notched 13 points on 4-of-9 shooting in the field while Chris Banchero and Chris Exciminiano contributed 10 and nine points, respectively, also for the Aces. Alaska import Robert Dozier finished with a measly seven points and eight rebounds.
“We’ve got to be tough physically and mentally to win this series,” he added. “We’re one step closer and they will come back stronger. RJ [Jazul] has been doing great and he is a tough kid.”
Reynel Hugnatan led Meralco with 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the field plus six rebounds and four assists.
The Aces were leading 26-23 by the end of first period behind the impressive performance of Chris Banchero and Cyrus Baguio. But the Bolts outscored the Aces 25-17; in the second quarter en route to a halftime lead 48-43.
The veteran power forward Hugnatan posted 16 points alone in the third quarter to bring Meralco’s advantage to 79-71 at the end of the third period. Abueva led Alaska’s offense in the third period scoring 14 points during that quarter.
Former Letran Knights guard Jazul stepped up in the last period with a 26-15 run sealing his team’s victory.
Meanwhile, Rain or Shine is keen to stretch its lead to 2-0 when it faces San Miguel Beer tonight in Game 2 at the same venue.
Despite a deficit in the first half, the Elasto Painters managed to pull-off a 98-94 comeback victory against the Beermen in Game 1 on Sunday behind the spectacular performance of Maverick Ahanmisi and Jeff Chan.
“We’ve been saving Paul [Lee] for the minutes and he’s giving us good minutes right now,” said RoS coach Yeng Guiao. “It gives us some advantage I don’t know if it’s going to push us winning the series. The good sign is [Tyler] Wilkerson and June Mar [Fajardo] are playing their best game, but we’re able to pull off a win.”
Guiao and his wards are expecting a stronger Beermen in Game 2, “They will play stronger and we are ready to face them,” he added.
Wilkerson, who finished with 40 points and 11 rebounds in Game 1, is expected to lead San Miguel Beer anew in Game 2 with the support from Fajardo, Arwind Santos, Chris Lutz, Marcio Lassiter, Alex Cabagnot, Gary David and Chris Ross.
Wilkerson is leading the Best Import race with 36.5 points, 14.2 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 2.0 blocks per game average during the elimination round and quarterfinals.
ALASKA 97 – Jazul 18, Abueva 15, Baguio 13, Banchero 10, Exciminiano 9, Dozier 7, Menk 7, Baclao 6, Hontiveros 6, Thoss 4, Dela Cruz 2, Dela Rosa 0.
MERALCO 94 – Hugnatan 21, Hodge 14, Dillinger 12, Caram 11, Onuaku 11, Faundo 8, Newsome 7, Bono 6, Alapag 2, Amer 2, Buenafe Ry 0, Buenafe Ro 0.
Quarters: 26-23, 43-48, 71-79, 97-94