|Carl Cruz made crucial baskets to keep the Aces afloat. PBA Media Group|
By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA — Alaska engaged in a grit-and-grind showdown with Blackwater before hacking out a 103-101 win in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay on Wednesday night.
The Aces recovered in time after the Elite averted their breakaway and even came close to scoring an upset.
Alaska had a chance to pull away after opening a 90-82 lead with 6:40 remaining.
But Blackwater responded with an 8-0 run to force a 90-all deadlock with 4:29 to go.
Carl Cruz put the Aces back up with a layup with 4:14 remaining, but Allein Maliksi buried a triple to put the Elite ahead, 93-92, with 3:41 left.
Cruz scored another layup to bring Alaska back at the driver’s seat, 94-93, with 2:49 to go, but four straight free throws, two from Maliksi and the other two from James Sena, brought Blackwater back ahead, 97-94, with 2:15 to play.
The Aces then went on a 5-0 run capped by a go-ahead triple from Cruz that put them back in the lead, 99-97, with 1:26 remaining.
Maliksi answered with a stepback trey that was initially ruled as a two-pointer that gave the Elite the lead anew, 100-99, with 1:18 left.
Banchero, however, responded with a pull-up jumper to put Alaska in the lead once again, 101-100, with 1:03 to play.
Maliksi went for a pull-up from the right corner in the next play, but he muffed the jumper and Banchero found Sonny Thoss open from the top of the key to extend the Aces’ lead to three, 103-100, with 34.3 seconds to go.
Roi Sumang found an opening inside the lane and went for a quick layup attempt, leading to a split from the free throw line off a foul from Thoss with 30 seconds left.
The Elite got another chance to at least force overtime as Ping Exciminiano missed a three-point attempt that could have put away the game, but Maliksi failed to grab the defensive rebound and the ball sailed out of bounds.
Thoss then tricked them by quickly taking a three-point shot from the left corner to keep them from fouling him to stop the clock, and the Elite failed to throw a desperation heave at the final buzzer.
Cruz and Jeron Teng each scored 18 points for Alaska, which won for the second consecutive game and moved up to third place in the team standings at 2-1.
Banchero added a double-double of 16 assists and 11 points alongside three rebounds and two steals, while Exciminiano came close to his own double-double with 14 markers and nine rebounds with one steal off the bench.
Allein Maliksi tallied 25 markers, five caroms, three dimes, one steal, and one block for Blackwater, which fell to 1-6.
Blackwater guards Sumang and Mike DiGregorio made 18 and 14 points respectively.
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