Meralco became the first team to advance to the 2019 PBA Governors' Cup semifinals after fending off a second-half surge by Alaska, 94-84, Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Allen Durham paced the Bolts with 28 points, 16 rebounds and 8 assists, while Allein Maliksi turned up his best performance in a Meralco uniform by submitting 23 points built around four treys.
"It was a really tough game. A lot of credit has to go to the way Alaska fought tonight. There were times in the game where I thought we had control of the game, but that didn't really seem to be the case, because Alaska fought back, and they were able to give us a scare there at the end," coach Norman Black said.
The twice-to-beat Bolts looked to dispatch their counterparts early on by running off to a 13-0 start behind some balanced shooting and a stingy defensive game plan that forced Alaska to miss 14 of its first 18 shots.
The Aces fared better in the second quarter, but Durham tacked on 10 in that quarter -- including a basket at the 2:57 mark that gave his side their biggest lead at 22, 49-27 -- to help the Bolts coast comfortably at the break.
A spirited showing after halftime by Alaska gave Meralco a bit of a scare as an 11-2 blast to follow up a strong start to the third cut the lead to 3, 61-58, with 3:21 left there after a Simon Enciso (14 points in that period) trey pulled them closer.
Maliksi, though, had answers to douse that fiery Aces attack. He first conspired with Anjo Caram to built an 8-2 closeout to the third to ease the pressure off the Bolts, then later nailed a layup and a putback in back-to-back fastbreak possessions in the final minute of the payoff period to ensure that Meralco would stay comfortable and finally shake off an Alaska team that continued to stick around to make things interesting.
"I have to give a lo to credit to Allein Maliksi, who probably played his best game for us so far this conference, and he really gave us a big lift offensively. In addition to that, AD also played his regular game, which really helped us win this game tonight," Black noted.
Meralco will face the winner of the TNT and Magnolia quarterfinals series in the next round.
"Come on, they're both very strong teams, so I really don't have one choice over the other," Black quipped. "Either way, it's gonna be tough, it's gonna be difficult. I would say that maybe Talk 'N Text is probably a little bit more talented, particularly when it comes to their import, he's super talented. But at the same time, Magnolia, they are the defending champions, so they would also be very, very tough opposition for us. Anyway, we're there already, so let them decide that. That has nothing to do with us anymore, we'll just wait and see."
JVee Casio topped the Aces in scoring with 20 points, while Enciso finished with 16 and 5 rebounds. Import Franko House had a quiet outing against the Bolts and had only 11 points, 9 rebounds and 3 assists.
Alaska will finish the season with positive lessons to build on after overhauling a 0-5 start to the conference to make an unlikely appearance in the playoffs.
"I'm happy we made the playoffs after starting 0-5. We still bagged the seventh seed," Vic Manuel said in Filipino. "We're sad since we had a chance to win, but we just fell short. We just have to move on from this."
Meralco 94 - Durham 28, Maliksi 23, Newsome 17, Almazan 8, Amer 6, Faundo 4, Caram 4, Quinto 2, Hodge 2, Pinto 0.
Alaska 84 - Casio 20, Enciso 16, House 11, Manuel 9, Tratter 7, Herndon 5, Ayaay 5, Thoss 4, Ahanmisi 4, Racal 3, Galliguez 0, Brondial 0.
Quarterscores: 29-12, 49-34, 73-63, 94-84.
- Alaska went 5-for-9 from deep in the third period after going 1-for-11 in the first two quarters.
- Black said the team has yet to determine the severity of Raymond Almazan's left leg injury, which he sustained at the four-minute mark of the final frame when he landed awkwardly after a dunk. "It doesn't look good, judging by the way he walked off the court. I'm always worried when it's affecting the calf. That's a very delicate part of your leg, a lot of tissue involved, so it's easy to pull muscles there. We just have to check and find out what his problem is, and hopefully, it's not that serious."