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Meralco pulls huge comeback to seal top seed, send SMB to QF handicap


By Ivan Saldajeno

LOS BAÑOS--San Miguel seemed poise to even stealing the top seed in the PBA Governors' Cup quarterfinals from Meralco after opening an 18-point lead in the third quarter of their match at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on Sunday night.

The Bolts suddenly came alive in the fourth quarter.

Meralco completed a huge comeback to take a 104-101 win in the final game of the elimination round of the season-ending conference.

Allen Durham scored on a putback with 27.1 seconds left that turned out to be the game-winner as the Bolts sealed the top seed in the next round, although they still had to get some lucky breaks in the end.

Behind a dominating performance from Junemar Fajardo, SMB surged ahead, 71-53, with 4:53 remaining in the third period and kept the double-digit spread for the remainder of the quarter.

Meralco, however, slowly crawled its way back in the final frame and tied the game, 98-all, with 1:28 to go.

Cliff Hodge then stole the ball from Junemar Fajardo the set up a Durham lay-in to put the team up, 100-98, with 58.3 seconds left.

With the shotclock winding down and the Bolts' defense tight, Chris Ross drained a cold-blooded triple off a screen to give the Beermen the lead back, 101-100, with 40.4 seconds to go.

Durham then drove hard to the basket for a layup that he botched. The ball somehow got its way back at him, and he made sure that he will not miss as his follow-up put the Bolts ahead, 102-101, with 27.1 seconds on the clock.

The Beermen still had two cracks at the basket in the next play, but Hodge blocked Ross's layup, Durham swatted away Marcio Lassiter's and Fajardo missed an open one-hander with Garvo Lanete finally grabbing the rebound for the Bolts.

Durham then made two free throws with 3.2 seconds left to stretch the lead to three.

Alex Cabagnot still put up a shot from the right wing in the last play, but the ball only hit the back rim as time expired.

Durham finished with 35 points, 14 in the final quarter, 13 rebounds, eight assists, two blocks, and one steal for Meralco, which will take on eighth-seeded Blackwater right in the very first game of the quarterfinals on Tuesday night at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay at 4:15 p.m.

Jared Dillinger came off the bench to chip in 16 markers on 6-of-7 shooting with five rebounds and a steal.

Cliff Hodge came close to his own double-double, grabbing 15 rebounds and eight points with four assists, one block, and one steal.

Fajardo ended up with 26 points, eight rebounds, three blocks, and two steals for SMB, which fell to the sixth seed and will need to beat defending champion Ginebra, the third seed, twice beginning Wednesday night also at the MOA Arena to keep its grand slam bid alive.

The result also means Star, which beat NLEX by eight points earlier Sunday, will get the last quarterfinal bonus as the fourth seed. However, the fifth seed turned out to be NLEX, virtually making their Tuesday night game following the Meralco-Blackwater clash "Game 2" of a virtual best-of-three.

The other quarterfinal pairing will have second-seeded TNT taking on seventh-seeded Rain Or Shine beginning Wednesday as well.

Box Scores:

Meralco 104-Durham 35, Dillinger 16, Newsome 14, Amer 13, Hodge 8, Tolomia 8, De Ocampo 6, Nabong 2, Hugnatan 2, Lanete 0

San Miguel 101-Fajardo 26, Lassiter 18, Watson 18, Cabagnot 16, Ross 10, Santos 6, Rosser 4, Espinas 3, Heruela 0

Quarterscores: 19-32, 39-51, 69-81, 104-101

Follow him on Twitter: @IvanSaldajeno