Down by ten points entering the fourth period, the North All-Stars outscored the South by 15 markers in the final quarter to escape with a 166-161 match in a scintillating and exciting showdown of the best talent in the PBA, earlier at the Puerto Princesa gymnasium in Palawan.
As expected, the game featured thrilling fast-paced exchanges that showcased moves that wouldn’t usually be seen in a normal PBA game. In the first quarter, North had the upper hand in the first six minutes at 27-23. Asi Taulava played point guard in several plays as ‘The Rock’ brought down the ball after getting rebounds. Four minutes after the jumpball, a quick substitution fielded in the newly-retired Jimmy Alapag, which revived the former Talk ‘N Text duo of him and Taulava.
After the big guys such as Reynel Hugnatan, Greg Slaughter and Japeth Aguilar did their part offensively, guards Paul Lee, PJ Simon and Cyrus Baguio finished off the scoring in the first period that ended in favor of South.
In the second period, gunslinger Jeff Chan knocked down two straight triples to aid South build their double-digit gap against the North. The Blitz game rivalry between the youngsters, Terrence Romeo and Stanley Pringle, was also relived in the period as the two promising players chipped in points in an amazing fashion. Romeo showed his ball-handling prowess while knocking down long-ranged shots, while Pringle performed a spectacular one-handed alley-oop finish from PJ Simon.
Confident in their three-pointers were the players from South, as they started to threaten and pull away when Chan, Pringle and Devance punched in triples of their own. However, Romeo and the rest of the North kept close as they were down by seven heading into the break, 81-88
A different five was fielded by both teams to start the second period, but the same theme was still in play as the South seemed in control of the match. The dunkfest continued as Japeth Aguilar punished the rim on a breakaway attempt, while his Ginebra mate, LA Tenorio, amazed the crowd with his known reverse layup.
Another dunk by Aguilar gave North the lead for a short period, but Alapag kept on finding and dishing dimes to his South teammates to regain the edge. Pringle knocked down a triple to give South another double-digit lead en route to ten-point advantage after 36 minutes of exciting basketball.
In the fourth period, the trio of Terrence Romeo, Calvin Abueva, and Arwin Santos spearheaded the offense for the North All-stars as they blasted an 18-2 rampage. The atmosphere of the match then turned more serious as compared to the first three periods. After a quick ceasefire, South All-stars responded on their own rally with the help of their perimeter shooting anew as they grabbed the lead. Santos, however, scored on two straight baskets as the North held the lead for good.
With time melting away, Romeo knocked down a wide-open corner triple off a dish from Justin Melton, who did a spin-cycle escape to avoid PJ Simon in transition. Despite a late rally from Cyrus Baguio and the South, Romeo provided the game-sealing freethrow, and eventually ended the game up by five points.
The three-point competition winner Romeo was named the game’s Most Valuable Player with 24 markers including the key baskets at the tail-end of the exhibition. Abueva also played a splendid all-around game as he finished with 37 points, 16 assists and seven assists.
Jimmy Alapag, who technically played his last game in the PBA, capped off his stellar career with 12 points, five rebound and also making history in the All-Star game with his 17-assist production.
*Photos by Nuki Sabio of PBA Images