By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno (PNA)
MANILA — Pampanga and San Juan drew first blood against separate foes at the start of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League Playoffs on Saturday night at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan City.
The Giant Lanterns, seeded fourth in the Northern Division, turned back the fifth-seeded Bataan Risers, 71-64, while the Knights, the top-seeded team in the entire playoffs, averted an upset from the eighth-seeded Pasay Voyagers, 75-74.
Pampanga held Bataan to just eight points in the first quarter and raced to a 30-point lead, 48-18, late in the second.
The Risers came alive in the second half, holding the Giant Lanterns to just eight points in the third quarter before going for 24 in the final frame, but their impressive second half was not enough.
“Buti na lang may puhunan kami (Good thing, we had a huge lead). I’m still happy with the way that we played,” said Coach Bong Ramos after the win, although he rued that Pampanga relaxed in the second half.
Levi Hernandez led the Giant Lanterns with 18 points on 8-of-15 shooting and five rebounds.
Ryan Batino put up 19 markers on 8-of-11 field goals, 10 rebounds, two blocks, and two steals for Bataan.
Meanwhile, San Juan needed a fourth quarter blast led by John Wilson to edge Pasay at home.
Down for most of the game mainly due to a 24-13 Voyagers lead after the first quarter, the Knights outscored the Voyagers, 22-14 in the final period spiced up by Wilson’s go-ahead three, his only made trey all game long, with 1:31 left to preserve their homecourt edge.
“Talagang hindi gumive up (They really did not give up,” San Juan head coach Randy Alcantara simply said.
Mike Ayonayon led the Knights with 15 points, two rebounds, five assists, two steals, and one block.
Axel Iñigo put up a game-high 24 markers, three boards, three dimes, and two steals for the Voyagers.
San Juan and Pampanga can complete the sweep of their first-round meetings as their series shifts to the Angeles University Foundation Gym on Thursday night. (PNA)