Not even a tough stand from the Alaska Aces in the first half coupled with the loss of do-it-all import Marqus Blakely in the third canto could stop the streaking B-Meg Llamados.
Feeding off their reinvigorated defensive pressure, the Llamados unleashed a blinding third-quarter onslaught to turn back the Aces, 77-61, Wednesday night and secure their playoff berth in the PBA Governors Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Returning from a three-game absence due to an injury, PJ Simon collected 13 markers while reserve forward JC Intal tallied a conference-high 13 points, nine rebounds, two steals and a block in balanced display of the Llamados’ offensive attack.
It was the Llamados’ fifth consecutive win since absorbing a conference-opening 94-100 loss against Rain or Shine, running at second with a 4-1 mark, last May 25.
B-Meg coach Tim Cone, who called the shots for the Aces for 22 years before bolting out in the off-season to join the Llamados, praised his wards' commitment in playing tough defense.
“We played some religious defense tonight. We played maybe our best D since I came. A lot of us made efforts out there tonight.”
“It’s not about making the semis. Our goal is to keep winning, preparing ourselves and coming in winning basketball games,” he added.
The victory, however, wasn’t as easy as the final score indicated as the Llamados found the Aces a tough nut to crack collectively in the first 24 minutes of play, settling for a 38-all at the break.
To make matters worse, Blakely, while forcing his way against the swarming defense of Alaska’s Sonny Thoss and Gabby Espinas, rammed his head into Thoss’ body and appeared to suffer from a concussion, forcing Cone to pull him out midway through the third.
Despite his absence, Simon and Intal provided the scoring punch while Marc Pingris anchored their defense as the Llamados outscored the Aces 22-8 in the third and completely turned the game into a one-sided affair.
Courtesy of a completed alley-oop play from Rafi Reavis off Urbiztondo’s pass, the Llamados posted their biggest lead at 65-48 with more than nine minutes remaining in the final frame.
Jason Forte finished with a game-best 24 points while LA Tenorio had 17 markers and Thoss 10. The rest of the Aces, though, could only combine for 10 points.
Earlier, the Barako Bull Energy notched their second straight win by whipping Air21 109-100 behind another all-around outing from import LeRoy Hickerson.
Fresh from a sizzling 32-point output in their 111-107 stunner on defending champion Petron Blaze last Friday, Hickerson picked up from where he left off, coming up with 38 markers, including the Barako’s last seven points, on top of eight boards and as many rebounds.
With the win, the Energy improved their win-loss record to 3-2, in a tie with idle Barangay Ginebra and Powerade.
The Express, still reeling from a 78-91 defeat at the hands of the Llamados in Digos City last Saturday, got game-highs of 41 points and 17 boards from prolific Zach Graham but still went further down in the standings with a 1-4 mark, putting their playoff hopes in danger.
Note: PBA Press Corps president and veteran sportswriter Zean W. Macamay, assistant sports editor of People’s Journal, died last Tuesday due to cardiac arrest. He was 47.
After attending the University of the East, Macamay joined the Journal Group of Publication as a reporter in the early 80s and went on to become the sports editor of the now defunct Times Journal. He joined the sports staff of People’s Journal in 2001.
Last year, the PBA Press Corps elected Macamay as its President.
His remains lie at the St. Peter in Quezon Avenue. Cremation is tentatively set Saturday.
BARAKO BULL 109 – Hickerson 38, Pennisi 14, Kramer 10, Najorda 9, Cruz 9, Miller 8, Allado 8, Cervantes 7, Tubid 6, Weinstein 0, Sharma 0.
AIR21 100 – Graham 41, Sena 16, Isip 11, Omolon 10, Hubalde 6, Salamat 5, Arboleda 5, Espiritu 4, Menor 2, Sison 0, Faundo 0, Ritualo 0.
Quarters: 33-23, 53-47, 80-69, 109-100
B-MEG 77 – Blakely 13, Intal 13, Simon 13, Urbiztondo 8, Yap 8, Pingris 7, De Ocampo 6, Reavis 5, Barroca 4, Acuna 0, Gaco 0, Burstcher 0, Bono 0, Villanueva 0.
ALASKA 61 – Forte 24, Tenorio 17, Thoss 10, Baguio 5, Baracael 2, Cablay 2, Espinas 1, Jazul 0, Custodio 0, Eman 0, Gonzales 0, Dela Cruz 0.
Quarters: 20-24, 38-38, 60-46, 77-61