For the second straight conference, Alaska has staved off elimination in a do-or-die match.
The Aces booked the last quarterfinals ticket in the 2019 PBA Commissioner's Cup after holding off the Meralco Bolts in overtime, 108-103, on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
Chris Banchero proved to be clutch by scoring the Aces' last five points in regulation to erase a 95-91 deficit in the final 20 seconds and force an extra period.
Meralco looked poised for a win after Chris Newsome drained both of his free throws to give them that four-point lead, but a Banchero trey coming off an offensive rebound ensured that Alaska would be able to get a final shot off in the dying moments. Newsome later split his charities on the other end, setting up a tough turnaround jumper by Banchero over Cliff Hodge for the equalizer.
In overtime, two consecutive floaters from Vic Manuel and a short stab by Jeric Teng gave the Aces enough cushion as the Bolts failed to come up with anything productive on their end of the floor. Banchero and JVee Casio later sank a free throw each to seal the deal.
Manuel poured in 23 points and Diamon Simpson tallied a monster double-double of 20 points and 23 rebounds for Alaska, which snapped a five-game losing streak to push themselves to a first-round showdown with the TNT KaTropa. They'll be facing a twice-to-beat disadvantage by virtue of being the no. 8 seed.
"When you've lost five straight and you've gone through some of the struggles that we've gone, and you're playing a knockout to secure eighth place to have to play Talk 'N Text... you wouldn't think you'd feel as good as I do right now," a relieved Alex Compton said after the thriller.
After an 11-0 explosion to end the first half gave the Aces a comfortable 55-43 lead at the break, Meralco turned to James to turn their fortunes around. James nearly outscored the whole Alaska squad by himself in the third period by putting up 11 as Alaska came to within two to enter final quarter.
Neither team budged in a back-and-forth payoff period as Newsome conspired with a red-hot James to pile the pressure on the Aces. Alaska responded through Manuel, who put up 11 in that quarter as they refused to go away.
"Coach Luigi [Trillo] and coach Norman [Black], we were joking around about this being the real championship. Honestly after that game, after the heart that our guys showed and the plays they made late to get us the win, it does feel like a championship win," Compton added.
Meralco, which bowed out of the midyear campaign with a 4-7 record, was paced by James, who scored 27 of his 34 points in the second half. Their exit means that they'll miss the tournament's quarterfinals for the first time since 2011.
Alaska 108 - Manuel 23, Simpson 20, Banchero 15, Casio 14, Enciso 13, Teng 12, Thoss 5, Racal 2, Pascual 2, Baclao 2.
Meralco 103 - James 34, Newsome 20, Almazan 14, Amer 8, Quinto 7, Pinto 6, Hodge 4, Faundo 4, De Ocampo 3, Jackson 3, Salva 0.
Quarterscores: 26-28, 55-43, 68-66, 96-96, 108-103.
- Delroy James was assessed a flagrant foul 1 in the second period after elbowing Alaska's Kevin Racal. Without him on the floor, the Aces were able to build momentum for that 11-0 run to end the half.
- Alaska's first win in a do-or-die match this year came against NLEX last Philippine Cup.
Alaska vs. TNT on July 21, 4:30 p.m.