Regaining their form
A San Juan team that looked vulnerable in the first round of the Chooks-to-Go MPBL Lakan playoffs has suddenly regained its championship form.
Facing a Pampanga squad that seemed primed for an upset, the Knights again found ways to survive and punch their ticket to the North division finals even with top big man Larry Rodriguez sidelined by an injury in Game 2.
Just when everyone thought the Knights were on the ropes, they respond as champions do.
“The players are showing a lot of heart,” said San Juan coach Randy Alcantara, after the Knights disposed of the Giant Lanterns with a 91-83 for a sweep of the North division semifinals on Wednesday night at San Andres Gym. “The trust built from last season is still there and you can see that from the first unit up to our third-stringers, they were all ready to deliver.”
Pampanga was billed as a team built to go far in the playoffs and entered the second-round matchup with the Knights on a 10-game winning streak. Larry Muyang, who was an integral part of San Juan’s title conquest last year, was now playing for his home province Pampanga, which gave the Lanterns another advantage.
But Alcantara has proven that his lineups can be effective even against the bigger teams.
“There is always a big chance that we will have the smaller lineup so we’ve prepared for that all season long,” said Alcantara, who utilizes 6-foot-2 Jhonard Clarito at power forward.
Mike Ayonayon’s buzzer-beating floater that led to an 84-82 win for the Knights last Saturday in Game 1 pushed the Giant Lanterns to the brink. Anticipating a big fightback, the Knights kept their poise, while the Giant Lanterns lost their composure under pressure.
Pampanga star Mike Juico was ejected for punching San Juan forward Art Aquino in the first half. Reil Cervantes was also called for an unsportsmanlike foul as he tried to work his way out of San Juan’s ball pressure.
“We knew they were desperate so the reminder was to stay focused,” said San Juan gunner John Wilson, who finished with 26 points, six rebounds and five assists for the Knights, who will face the winner of the series between Makati and Manila.
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