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Meralco falters but gets job done in OT, sweeps Star to make Finals return

By Patrick Sutare

QUEZON CITY--Even until the final buzzer, defense made the difference in the series.

Meralco squandered an early double-digit lead and was made to sweat in the second half of regulation before its prized team defense rescued the group in OT to complete the sweep of Star, 91-88, in their semifinals Game 3 on Thursday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, booking its return ticket to the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.

It was a tale of two halves for the Bolts. After going on a shooting spree in the first 24 minutes of play where they scored 54 against Star’s 43, the Hotshots’ own defensive stand held them to just 29 points in the second half, forcing them to engage in a thriller extension.

But Meralco’s D was the last to blink on the chess match, holding Star scoreless for more than four minutes of the overtime period and capping the game with a thwarted game-tying three from Jio Jalalon to secure the win.

The huge victory presented that redemption is almost ripe for the picking for the last year's Govs Cup runners-up.

Denied of the chip, this tourney’s top-seed Bolts is back to seize the peak, eyeing nothing but payback.

A rematch with Barangay Ginebra, though, is not yet guaranteed as the defending champs still battle TNT in their own war zone.

Allen Durham remained a potent force in Meralco’s attack, cashing in 24 points, 19 boards and six dimes in 46 minutes as Cliff Hodge once again provided the needed hustle plays plus a clutch three-pointer in OT that put the Bolts up for good. He finished with 18 markers, eight rebounds and three assists.

Ranidel de Ocampo, meanwhile, proved to be a reliable go-to-guy in a closeout game, channeling his savvy to help Meralco clinch the series. The veteran forward poured in 13 points, 10 in the first half, highlighted by a cold-blooded jumper in the extension that put Meralco up by five, 88-83, 1:17 left. He added seven rebounds and two assists off the bench as he makes his first Finals entry in just his first conference as a Bolt.

Mark Barroca paced the hapless Hotshots with a near triple-double. He scored 21 points, most of which came when they unleashed a torrid uprising that erased the Bolts’ upperhand, plus 12 boards and eight dimes. Marc Pingris had 16 while Jalalon added 12.

Kristofer Acox had yet another underwhelming performance, finishing with just four points in a dismal 22 percent shooting.

Box Scores:

Meralco 91-Durham 24, Hodge 18, De Ocampo 13, Amer 10, Dillinger 10, Newsome 9, Hugnatan 7, Lanete 0, Tolomia 0

Star 88-Barroca 21, Pingris 16, Jalalon 12, Sangalang 8, Ramos 8, Dela Rosa 7, Reavis 6, Acox 4, Gamalinda 3, Melton 3, Simon 0

Quarterscores: 30-27, 54-43, 69-68, 91-88

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