In front of their boisterous home crowd, San Miguel Alab Pilipinas drew first blood in their best-of-three quarterfinals matchup against Saigon Heat with an imposing 110-100 Game 1 victory on Sunday at the FilOil Flying V Centre in San Juan, Philippines.
More importantly, Alab got their first playoff win in franchise history. Last year, they were swept by the Singapore Slingers in just two games.
“I’m happy we won, but I don’t think I did a very good job. In an effort standpoint it was great but we were far from the sharpest we could be, that’s on me,” Alab coach Jimmy Alapag said after the game.
Reigning Local MVP Ray Parks led the way with a career-playoff high 24 points while also adding 4 rebounds and 3 assists. The pair of Renaldo Balkman and Justin Brownlee meanwhile were instrumental in carving out the first playoff win for the Philippines. Balkman tallied 17 points and 20 boards while Brownlee flirted with a triple-double of 22 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists.
Alab, who finished the regular season at third place with a 14-6 card, fired on all cylinders right from the opening tip. They scored 30 points in the first quarter, putting a ton of pressuring on the visiting team.
The turning point of the game for the Heat unfortunately came in the form of their head coach getting ejected. Heat mentor Kyle Julius got slapped for his second technical of the game during the tail end of the first half.
Without a head coach for the Heat, Alab continued to pour it on in the second half. They would lead by as much as 22 points, 97-75, early in the fourth quarter.
But the Heat refused to go down, leaning on the broad shoulders of Maxie Esho. The bruising center did all he could with his 42-point career-high and 11 rebounds. Mikey Williams and Akeem Scott notched 19 points apiece but both of them shot poorly from the field.
The Heat were able to chop the deficit to just 10 points, 108-98, but time was not on their side. Brownlee immediately answered with a lay up on the other end, quenching the rally of the Heat and securing the victory for Alab.
Aside from the huge efforts of Parks, Balkman, and Brownlee, Alab also got a huge lift from their bench. Lawrence Domingo once again displayed his trademark hustle and energy as he finished with a season-best 18 points. As a team, Alab finished with 36 bench points.
“We gave up a hundred points to four guys, that falls on me, we have to be sharper both offensively and defensively,” expressed Alapag. “We had the game in hand in a lot of instances but let them get back into it, turnover, bad fouls, the only advantage is we won the first game.”
The series now shift to Saigon for Game 2 on April 7, Saturday.