By Ivan Saldajeno
MANILA—Manila stunned the jampacked FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City after taking a down-the-wire 91-88 road win against San Juan in Game 1 of the MPBL Northern Division Finals early Friday.
In a game that ended a few minutes after midnight because the said venue had to host the Philippine Superliga games on Thursday night, the Stars, who entered the playoffs as the fourth seed, survived an endgame push from the Knights, which came in at number three, to steal homecourt edge in the best-of-three series.
Manila, which engaged in a close encounter since tip-off, held a 90-85 cushion with 1:16 to play in the game, or just as the real-time clock struck 12.
But a split from Aaron Jeruta and a jumper from Mike Ayonayon cut the lead down to two, 90-88, with 51.5 seconds to play.
San Juan even had two stops in the next play, a block from CJ Isit and his teammates ganging up on Reil Cervantes to force the heldball situation only that the possession arrow pointed to Manila.
However, Jonard Clarito fouled Aris Dionisio while trying to go for the steal, giving the latter a chance to create some separation again.
Dionisio, however, split from the line, giving the Knights 32.6 seconds to map out a quick play or a potential equalizer from three-point range.
Marcy Arellano, though, stole the ball off Ayonayon's intended pass, only for teammate Marvin Hayes to give the ball back to the hosts after a travelling infraction.
But with no timeout left, Orlan Wamar had to run three-fourths of the court with 3.3 seconds left for a desperation heave that was way off the mark.
Dionisio put up a solid two-way performance of 18 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and two blocks for the Stars, who can finish the Knights off at home on Saturday night at the San Andres Sports Complex.
Cervantes added 16 points including a clutch triple that gave his team the late five-point lead for them to hand on along with seven boards, one dime, two blocks, and one steal.
John Wilson made 19 points, eight caroms, six dishes, and one steal for the Knights, who suffered their first loss at home all season long.
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