MPBL: Bataan, San Juan off to good start in Final Four

San Juan Knights (photo from MPBL Facebook)

Host team Bataan and San Juan carved out contrasting victories at the start of their Final Four series over their respective northern counterparts Tuesday night here at the packed People’s Center in Balanga.

The Risers survived a huge fourth quarter rally by the Manila Stars before preserving an ugly 73-72 win and moving a win away from clinching a championship berth in the tough northern division.

Earlier, Mac Cardona knocked in 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter to power San Juan to a 94-86 win over Quezon City.

“I’ll take any win, even if it’s ugly,” said Bataan coach Jojo Lastimosa, who complained several lapses in officiating, including a basket interference called on Aris Dionisio that was reviewed and reversed into a jump ball situation, depriving the Zetapro-backed Risers the two points and giving the ball to the Robust Energy Capsule-supported Stars because of the possession arrow.

But Lastimosa and co. could heave a sigh of relief as they were finally put a win against the very first team that defeated them nearly a year ago. They waited a long time to get the opportunity to get back and the semifinals series proved to be the perfect time.

In a game which saw both teams struggling with their shooting, Bataan was able to use their 21-point, fourth quarter lead as an investment.

At one stretch in the third quarter, the Stars missed eight straight free throws – nine of the last 10 attempted – at a time when Bataan was pulling away.

But the Stars didn’t fold up easily and despite the shooting struggle, they were able to come back and turned a 68-47 deficit to just to just a 69-67 advantage as the Risers were held without a field goal for a nine-minute stretch in the fourth.

Gab Dagangon stopped the bleeding for the Risers as his short stab gave his squad a 71-67 advantage, 41 seconds left.

After a missed offensive thrust by Manila, Yvan Ludovice as fouled in the next play and split his charities.

Dionisio’s triple shoved Manila to within two, 72-70, then Pamboy Raymundo answered back with his split charities, before Dionisio scored inside for the final tally.

Both teams struggled shooting either from the field and from the free throw area.

Manila missed a total of 27 shots from the foul area and made only 11.