Finals Game 7: SLR 100, PF 88

On: 03 March 2008

The Sta. Lucia Realtors has finally proven to all the haters, critics and doubters that they can win a Game 7 in a championship series. The Realtors beat the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants last night, 100-88, to cop the Smart PBA Philippine Cup at Araneta Coliseum in front of 18,167-sellout crowd.

Kelly Williams had his tournament-high 22nd double-double with 17 points and 15 rebounds and three others scored at least 11 points for Sta. Lucia. However, it was undeniable Dennis Espino who was responsible for the Realtors bagging their first All-Filipino crown since joining the league in 1993 and first title since the 2001 Governors Cup.

The man who was made the team’s cornerstone 13 years ago was at his fieriest in the fourth quarter by scoring 10 points, eight during a torrid 11-0 run that pushed the Realtors back from a 79-80 deficit and into a 90-80 lead, only 2:45 left. Before that, he scattered 12 points in the third period to help Sta. Lucia overcome a 44-45 deficit and go into the fourth period with a 71-70 edge.

Espino finished with 29 points and was adjudged Finals Most Valuable Player for the first time in his career, leading the Realtors to only their second championship in 15 years.

“I told my teammates (before the game) that there is no tomorrow for us after this,” Espino, who has been given credit by management and coaching staff for holding the team together on and off the court, said in Filipino.

“I asked them to give it their all tonight”, he added.

SLR coach Boyet Fernandez cannot help but praised the performance of Espino.

"The Cap really stepped up tonight. He deserves all the praises that come his way," said Fernandez, who did not win a championship as a player from 1994-2005 and now is titled in only his second conference in the league.

Purefoods, which led by as many as seven points in the first half, had nothing left in the tank by then, finding itself trailing by as many as 82-94, heading into the final 1:32 of play.

Peter June Simon scored 27 points to lead the Giants but it was the sterling defense thrown on star James Yap that spelled the difference.

Yap finished with 21 points and he had 11 in the fourth. But most of those points came when the game was practically decided.

In the end, defense spelled the biggest difference as Sta. Lucia pressured Purefoods into 18 turnovers while committing only four of its own, in the process tying the 33-year-old league’s lowest and establishing a finals record.

“I just told them they’ve got to believe in themselves, believe in their coach, believe in the system,” team owner Buddy Encarnado said. “We did not make it here because of sheer luck, we showed that we can play more with patience and dedication. And now, people have really got to believe because whether they like or not, we are the champions,” Encarnado said.

Among those who were at the crowd are US Ambassador Kristie Kenney and MMDA chief Bayani Fernando.

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