By Dugout Philippines
NONTHABURI — As Farid Aslani was about to take his second free-throw with only one second left in the game, Benham Yakchali embraced emphatically with Arsalan Kazemi. It had been a tough game against the Meralco Bolts, but Petrochimi managed to pull through for the semifinals win, 79-74.
The win secures Petrochimi’s first Finals appearance after two straight years of losses in the Final 4 round.
The Iranian ball club went toe-to-toe with the Bolts for the entire game and neither team were able to gain a lead as big as 8 points. Both teams swapped leads 21 times with neither squads backing down to another.
The Bolts did a great job in the first half to stop Petrochimi from knocking down threes and were able to cling on to a 34-33 lead at the halftime buzzer. Petrochimi clanged their first 21 three-point attempts to their frustration, but held on tightly with Meralco relying on the penetration of Sajjad Mashayeki, who finished with 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists.
Petrochimi Head Coach Mehran Hatami recognized the team’s woes attacking from the perimeter, but doubled down by running a three-guard rotation to start the second half. It was a game changing move that opened the floor for Petrochimi’s shooters to get into rhythm. It wasn’t until the 5:20 mark of the third quarter until they got their first three-pointer from Yakhchali. Today was another high-scoring effort for the 23-year-old with 29 points and 8 rebounds.
The rising star guard started the game 0-6 from downtown but caught fire in the third quarter, nailing four straight three-pointers to create the separation needed.
In the clutch final minutes of the game, Yakchali and Kazemi took turns coming up with big plays on both ends to lead their team to a hard fought win.
A big block by Kazaemi to hold the score at 76-72 with 1:45 minutes left in the game proved to be the one stop that Petrochimi needed. Kazemi has been one of the best defensive players of the entire tournament and put on another solid game with 6 points and14 rebounds.
Allen Durham powered the way for the Bolts once again with 27 points and 11 rebounds before fouling out of the game.
This game was the third straight semifinals appearance in the FIBA Asia Champions Cup for Petrochimi and the win gets them their first ever ticket to the championship game. They had suffered heartbreaking losses in this round for two straight years, making this victory all the more satisfying.
The Meraclo Bolts will play for third place in the final day of the tournament tomorrow.
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