Finals Game 1: SLR 109, PF 97

On: 16 February 2008

What was expected to be a low-scoring defensive game, turned to be a display of the shooting prowess of the Sta. Lucia Realtors. Many forgot that before the team developed to be one of this year’s best defensive team, they were known to an offensive unit. In the opener of the 2007-08 Smart PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Araneta Coliseum last night, the Realtors step on their offensive gas to defeat the Purefoods TJ Giants, 109-97, and take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.

The Realtors turned the game around late in the third quarter as the Giants eventually tired out in the face of Sta. Lucia's tenacious defense, but their offense was also superfluous that players like Norman Gonzalez and Christian Coronel find it easy to score.

"We started slow. Championship jitters caught up with the guys. We also tried different looks at defending Purefoods and it backfired. But to the credit of my players, they managed to recover and stepped up when they had to," said Sta. Lucia coach Boyet Fernandez during the post-game news conference.

"We didn't come to the Finals to play catch up," he quickly added.

Kelly Williams found his rhythm in the last 12 minutes after struggling for three quarters, providing the finishing touches in the decisive period to cap Sta. Lucia's amazing comeback. He led all scorers with 24 points, including 14 in the fourth, grabbed 12 rebounds, had two assists, one steal and a shot block.

However, it was the two grizzly veterans, Dennis Espino and Marlou Aquino, who fuelled the Realtors run and sustained it all throughout the last quarter. Dubbed as players in the twilight of their careers, Espino and Aquino showed that they are still the more dominant combination under the basket.

Espino finished the game with 20 points, 4 rebounds and 1 assist in only 26 minutes of action. Aquino, on the other hand, produced 13 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 block shots in just 27 minutes. Espino's determination was so evident that he even dived at the loose ball which led to Williams thunderous dunk that took the fighth out of the Giants late in the fourth.

More importantly, both made the big men of the Giants worked hard to defend them down low and at the same time limit the scoring of the Giants’ Kerby Raymundo and Marc Pingris. Raymundo and Pingris combined for a measly 32.3 percent shooting from the floor or 10 out of 31.

Nelbert Omolon, Joseph Yeo and Dennis Miranda also contributed at least11 points a piece to offset the 22-point output of the Giants’ main man, James Yap.

Although, SLR coach Boyet Fernandez attributed their win to their choking defense, which made the Giants commit 20 turnovers and gave up 25 points, it was the players recognition of the situation that made the win possible.

When the Giants employed a man-to-man defense, Yeo, Espino and Aquino used their first-step to beat their man to the basket. When the Giants double-teamed either Espino or Aquino at the post, Omolon, Williams and Yeo cuts to the basket for an easy two. This was even highlighted by a thunderous dunk by Williams early in the game. When the Giants decided to shift to their zone defense, it left Williams, Coronel and even Gonzalez open to take the three with impunity.

Purefoods coach Ryan Gregorio gave no alibis for the loss.

"We didn't know how to make stops. I thought we did a good job when we forced them with 5 turnovers in the first quarter. But our ability to create turnovers took its toll on us. Ultimately we shot ourselves in the foot," observed Gregorio.

"I don't think physically we're ready to defend them in transition. I thought we have no problem on defense. I guess we have a lot of adjustments to make," he added.

The Purefoods coach also stressed that the Giants must not allow the Realtors to score over 100 points every game. And if they do, Gregorio believes, "No way we could win this series."

Game Two of the best-of-seven series is set Sunday also at the Araneta Coliseum at 6:30 pm.

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