Finals Key Player

On: 07 March 2008

When the chips are on the line, only a veteran like Dennis Espino of the Sta. Lucia Realtors knows that the team captain has to lead by example. There was never a better time to put that into practice than in the Game 7 of the just concluded PBA Smart Philippine Cup championship series against the Purefoods Tender Juicy Giants.

Labeled as one of the league’s biggest underachievers in the past, Espino hit all the crucial shots for the Realtors down the stretch in a 100-88 Game 7 victory over the Giants last 02 March 2008 to put an end to their classic match-up. With that win, Espino provided an all-Filipino title for the team he has stayed loyal to for 13 years.

The 6-foot-6 Sta. Lucia skipper hit four crucial baskets in a telling 13-2 run inside the final 5:48 as the Realtors turned a 79-80 deficit into a 92-82 lead with 1:49 left to close out the bruising series before a virtual sea of humanity at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City.

“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.”

Joseph Yeo kicked off the Realtors’ final run, zigzagging past a phalanx of defenders to nail a left-handed lay-up for an 81-80 lead before Espino scored three of the next four unanswered Sta. Lucia baskets that signaled the start of the end for the Giants.

The 34-year-old Espino’s heroics started in the second half, when he hit 12 in the third before topping it with 10 in the payoff period. He finished with a game-high 29 points, five rebounds and a block in just 31 minutes.

Sophomore sensation Kelly Williams scored 17 points in a splendid support job, while rookie point guard Ryan Reyes contributed 12 and Nelbert Omolon and Marlou Aquino added 11 each.

The championship was also the first for SLR coach Boyet Fernandez – either as a player or a coach – in 12 years in the league. And he gave it to the team where he started and ended his playing career dating back to the amateurs.

For the whole series, Espino averaged 18.6 points, 4.1 rebounds, almost an assist in 27.6 minutes of action. He is also shooting 31.6 percent from the floor, slightly lower than the 39.0 percent clip he had in the semifinals mainly because he took several three-point attempts that did not went in.

Espino scoring finals average is way better than the number he had in the semifinal round and slightly better than Williams (17.0 points per game) who struggled in the face of the Giants collapsing defense on him the whole series.

As a result of Espino’s almost superhuman effort, he was adjudged the Finals Most Valuable Player for the first time in his career.

This one, though, was undoubtedly the sweeter one considering the circumstances surrounding these playoffs.

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