Last-ditch stand by PBA underdogs
Blackwater highlighted a sudden show of power by underdogs going into the homestretch of the PBA Philippine Cup eliminations with its 106-96 conquest of San Miguel Beer last week.
But the defending champion Beermen managed to cling to the lead at 6-2 with the resurgent Alaska Aces, who remained unbeaten in six games in 2018 after dropping their first two games of the season to Magnolia and TNT Katropa.
With Mike DiGregorio firing 26 points and center Poy Erram outscoring tower of power June Mar Fajardo, 24-12, the Elite easily surpassed the 100-96 decision Barangay Ginebra San Miguel pulled off last Jan. 28 over the defending champion Beermen, who are seeking an unprecedented fourth straight all-Filipino crown.
The win boosted Blackwater’s record to 3-5 and revived its hopes of joining the top eight teams that will advance to the quarterfinals because of a relatively light schedule in its last three games. The Elite face tailender Kia on Feb. 16, NLEX on Feb. 18 and Phoenix on Feb. 21.
NLEX and Phoenix also toppled favored rivals last week and improved to 4-4 like Ginebra and TNT, which are playing each other at press time last night. The Road Warriors, with rookie Kiefer Ravena capping a team-high 21 points with two clutch baskets in the dying seconds, downed the injury-riddled Meralco Bolts, 87-85, while the Fuel Masters nipped the Katropa, 74-72, behind Matthew Wright, who fired a triple before issuing the game-winning basket to Doug Kramer.
Rain or Shine was another revelation in its 101-95 demolition of Magnolia that lifted the Elasto Painters to solo fourth at 5-3 behind the now third-running 6-3 slate of the Hotshots.
Despite the loss, Magnolia remained in the running for a top two finish after the eliminations that will enjoy a twice-to-beat bonus in the quarterfinals. But the Hotshots have to win their last two games against GlobalPort (Feb. 16) and Meralco (Feb. 24).
The SMB-Alaska duel on Feb. 17 in Dumaguete City will likely decide the elimination topnotcher. Alaska, scheduled against NLEX also at press time yesterday, winds up its campaign against Rain or Shine on Feb. 23. SMB, on the other hand, meets Kia also on Feb. 23 before ending its schedule against Rain or Shine on Feb. 28.
Except for Kia, GlobalPort (3-4), Blackwater and Meralco (2-6) are still in contention to make it to the quarterfinals although the last two qualifiers will be facing the tough job of needing to win twice over the two top elimination teams to reach the semifinals. The other four quarterfinalists will collide in a best-of-three series to advance with No. 3 taking on No. 6 and No. 4 facing No. 5.