Alaska Aces raised the curtains to the PBA Philippine Cup in dominant fashion as it belted Blackwater Bossing with a 103-77 whipping on Friday (16 July) at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.
Behind the offensive exploits of Mike DiGregorio, Yousef Taha and Abu Tratter, the Aces overcame a slow start and used a 32-18 surge in the third quarter to turn a 39-all tie at the half to a comfortable 71-57 cushion – an advantage that they would never relinquish the rest of the way.
DiGregorio spearheaded the charge with 20 points, 17 of which coming in the second half, built on four three-pointers for Alaska which - according to league statistics chief Fidel Mangonon - recorded the largest season-opening win since Mobiline came out 90-64 victors against Tanduay at the 1999 Philippine Cup.
“My challenge to the guys is really just share the ball on offense and to defend the best way we can,” Aces head coach Jeff Cariaso said.
“Luckily, Mike stepped up and a lot of the guys, they really followed the simple game plan that we have.”
Despite being a recent off-season addition to the Alaska’s rotation, Taha made an immediate impact with 16 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Supporting him was Tratter, who added 13 points, six boards and two blocks.
Blackwater, on the other hand, could not capitalize on Simon Enciso’s 23 points, 17 of which coming in the first half to help keep the Bossing afloat before the Aces broke the game wide open.
In the second game of the triple-header, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters overcame Kiefer Ravena's last-gasp effort to pull off an 83-82 escape act against NLEX Road Warriors.
Holding a slim 79-77 edge late in the fourth quarter, Rey Nambatac traded baskets with Ravena before Beau Belga pulled the Elasto Painters out of danger with a hook shot to stretch the lead to 83-79.
Ravena tried to will the Road Warriors back into it once more as he connected on a triple from the logo, cutting the deficit down to a point, and forced a Gabe Norwood turnover to give his side a chance to win the game.
NLEX, however, could not sustain whatever momentum Ravena generated, as Anthony Semerad missed from mid-range in the final possession, allowing Rain or Shine to come out of the contest unscathed.
Nambatac flirted with a double-double of 19 points and eight rebounds, while Belga contributed 17 points, seven boards and five assists. The duo also gave Chris Gavina his breakthrough victory as the head coach of the team.
"We are really glad that our guys were resolute enough to trust our system, trust one another, and come out with a big first win for this conference," said Gavina, who took the reins of coaching for the ball club in the off-season.
Ravena delivered 23 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals for NLEX in his first PBA game since Shiga Lakestars announced his controversial decision to play in the vaunted Japan B. League.
Another blowout victory came when Meralco Bolts relied on Mac Belo's all-around brilliance to complete an 85-63 beatdown of NorthPort Batang Pier.
Belo, who was traded from Blackwater in the off-season, made a huge splash on his debut, finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds. He carried the offensive load for the Bolts, who zeroed in on the defensive end which forced Batang Pier to fire blanks all game long.
"We played very good defense today as a team, and of course, Mac Belo had a big game for us. He scored a lot of points for us today," Meralco coach Norman Black said.
Like a well-oiled defensive machine, the Bolts held NorthPort, which has a solid selection of scorers in Sidney Onwubere, Robert Bolick and Jamie Malonzo, to its lowest point production in franchise history, as per Mangonon. The previous record was 68 points which it set in a loss to Rain or Shine in the 2020 Philippine Cup bubble.
"It's a good first game. It's a good start. You want to get off to a good start this conference. You don't want to fall behind. Getting that first win is a big thing for us," Black added.
Onwubere put up a team-high 13 points in the loss, as the returning Bolick wound up with 11 markers in his first official ball game since he injured his ACL. Meanwhile, Malonzo, the no.2 pick in the draft, had nine points in his league debut.
Ohmer Bautista is a sports journalist who has covered local and international sporting events in the Philippines. The views expressed are his own.
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