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BACK AT FAMILIAR TERRITORY | Aces reach finals anew, slam door on Meralco

PBA

By Julian Reyes

QUEZON CITY--Two nights ago, after slipping away the opportunity to clinch the last berth in the finals of the PBA Commissioner's Cup, Alaska Aces' Calvin Abueva guaranteed that his team will bounce back in the deciding Game 5 of their semis matchup with the Meralco Bolts.

Fast-forward to Wednesday, the energetic forward really meant what he said as powerhouse Alaska survived a brave challenge from resilient Meralco, 76-70, at Smart Araneta Coliseum to setup a finals date with the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters.

The Aces banked on the endgame heroics of Abueva to fend off Meralco's late rally to reach the finals for the third straight time and fourth in the league's last five conferences.

Down by an inch, 66-67, Abueva scored a crucial follow-up basket off a Rob Dozier's miss to push Alaska to a 68-67 lead with 1:11 left and then connected four freebies in the last 15 seconds to give the Aces the hard-earned win.

The 6-foot-3 Kapampangan finished with a game-high 19 points and eight rebounds.

RJ Jazul also came up big in the clutch as he converted all of the four insurance free throws in the dying seconds to finish with nine points.

"There are a whole lot of alibis the guys could have used--Meralco got destiny, they're well coached, they've got the biggest import. But our guys didn't make any excuses and they played 'til the end," said Alaska's coach Alex Compton who will try to finally win his first title in the league as the Alaska's coach when they battle Rain or Shine in a best-of-seven series starting on Friday.

Chris Banchero also delivered huge for Alaska as he tallied 18 points while former Import of the Year Dozier bucked a foul trouble to record a double-double on 14 points and 18 boards.

The Aces was on top by eight, 60-52, midway in the fourth quarter when the Bolts suddenly found sparks in the names of Jared Dillinger and rookie Baser Amer.

Dillinger and Amer combined for 11 on Meralco's 15-6 spirited run, with the former scoring seven on that burst including the three-point play that gave the Bolts a one-point lead with three minutes left.

Showing mastery with a heart in crucial situation, Abueva however stepped up for the Aces to stop the bleeding right on time.

The Bolts had two more chances to steal the lead over Aces but those possessions ended up in turnovers as the latter lived up to its defensive style of play.

Meralco, who failed again to make its first-ever finals appearance since joining the league on 2010, was top scored by Dillinger who finished with 18 points.

Box Scores:

Alaska 76-Abueva 19, Banchero 18, Dozier 14, Jazul 9, Thoss 8, Baclao 5, Hontiveros 3, Baguio 0, Dela Cruz 0, Exciminiano 0

Meralco 70-Dillinger 18, Onuaku 15, Amer 12, Hodge 9, Caram 6, Faundo 4, Hugnatan 4, Newsome 2, Alapag 0, Bono 0, Ry. Buenafe 0

Quarterscores: 22-22, 37-39, 56-50, 76-70

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