Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Llamados survive Bolts to enter PBA semis for 5th straight time

Derby Ace’s bid to become the first back-to-back All-Filipino champion in the last 25 years just got an added shot in the arm.

The Llamados built a big 19-point lead early, then hang tough against a fierce Meralco Bolts rally in the endgame of a 92-88 win Wednesday night at the Araneta Coliseum.

The win sent the Llamados to the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals and boosted their chances of repeating as All-Filipino champions.

The powerhouse 1985 Great Taste squad handled by the legendary Baby Dalupan was the last team to successfully defend the AFC crown.

The Game Two victory allowed the reigning champions to complete a sweep of the best-of-three quarterfinals series. On record, the Llamados won all four matches this conference against the Bolts, handled by their former coach Ryan Gregorio. 

The Llamados will meet no less than the top-seeded Talk `N Text Tropang Texters in the best-of-seven semifinals, which begins a day after Christmas.

This marks the fifth straight conference the Llamados will be in the semis. 

Peter June Simon waxed hot in the opening half, scoring 16 of his team-high 23 points.

His shooting served as the Llamados’ springboard in erecting a 52-33 lead at halftime against a Bolts team apparently fatigued from their previous two games.

The Bolts played those with a total of five extra periods, including a 106-97 double overtime loss to Derby Ace in the series opener Friday.

Despite their tired legs, the Bolts still eventually gave the Llamados a big scare, rallying from that big deficit.

With Mac-Mac Cardona showing the way, the surging Bolts outscored the Llamados, 15-3, in a third-quarter stretch to trim a 51-69 deficit to 66-72 entering the fourth.

Meralco then made the first three points in the final 12 minutes to come even closer, 69-72.

But free throws from Jonas Villanueva broke the ice for Derby Ace.

Gerwin Gaco came off the bench and scored six of his eight points for an 89-82 Llamados lead in the final two-minute mark.

A strong drive to the hoop by Cardona in the final seven seconds had the Bolts taking their final stand, 91-88, before James Yap sank one of two free throws to clinch the game for the reigning champions.

Yap added 17, KG Canaleta 16 and Villanueva 10 for the Llamados, whose rookie coach Jorge Gallent will be in his first ever PBA semifinal stint.

Cardona finished with 26 points and Chris Ross had a conference-high 20 and seven assists for Meralco, the newest franchise in the league, which exceeded expectations by making it as far as the quarterfinal round. - KY, RCJ, GMANews.TV

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