A new champion will be crowned.
The Meralco Bolts put an end to the Purefoods franchise’s four-conference championship streak, dismantling the misfiring Star Hotshots, 77-65, Thursday night at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The first quarter saw the two trigger-happy squads trade basket after basket in a high octane shootout. The lead changed hands several times in the quarter, but it was the defending champions who exited the quarter with the lead, 19-18, 11 of their points coming from Joe Devance.
Though both teams shifted gears in the second quarter to focus on defense, the lead still changed hands several times. The Bolts managed to pull off a couple of defensive stops and built a six-point lead, 31-25, the biggest lead at that point, halfway through the period. With around two minutes left in the quarter, Purefoods enforcer Marc Pingris was hacked from behind by Meralco’s Cliff Hodge while going for a layup. The prized defensive specialist spent a minute or two in pain sprawled on the ground, before finally letting himself be helped up to take the free-throw charities awarded to him. The Bolts’ defense allowed the Hotshots to only eleven points in the quarter, as they entered the halftime break with a 35-30 edge.
Meralco led by as many as seven points early in the third quarter, but a couple of big baskets from two-time MVP James Yap ignited the Purefoods cause, leading a brief rally that trimmed the lead to a single possession, 43-40, with seven minutes left on the clock. The Hotshots managed to go 4-1 in the next few minutes to force a deadlock at 44-all, but the run was stymied by back-to-back baskets from Meralco’s JR Sena and a triple from Mike Cortez to complete the 7-0 response. The Bolts ended the quarter with a 56-48 lead, following another terrific defensive display.
The Bolts widened the gap to as many as fifteen, 65-50, early in the fourth quarter, after allowing the Hotshots to a dismal two points in the first four minutes of the period. Though the Hotshots managed to get their offense going, the Bolts only shifted their gears to respond to the resurgence, going all out on the offensive to stay ahead of the race with the double digit lead for most of the remainder of the period.
Entering the final two minutes, the Bolts still led by double digits, 75-63. Two free-throws from Mark Barroca trimmed the lead to ten, 75-65, with a minute and a half left on the clock. But Meralco’s series of defensive stops and big offensive boards ended any hopes of a sudden comeback by the Hotshots. The final 50 seconds saw a few more missed shots from the soon-to-be dethroned champions, and another basket by Jared Dillinger proved to be the icing on the cake.
Dillinger led the Bolts with 14 points and 4 rebounds.
The Bolts will be facing the Alaska Aces in a knockout match for one of the two remaining semifinal slots.
The Purefoods franchise’s storied championship run meanwhile ends at four conference titles. Their streak began in early 2013, when they bagged that year’s Governor’s Cup after trouncing the Petron Blaze (now playing as the San Miguel Beermen) in a seven-game series. Their last championship in the streak came earlier this year, after outlasting the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters in five games to take the 2013-2014 Governor’s Cup. The Star Hotshots played as the San Mig Coffee Mixers during this historic run.