Alaska Milk made a big turnaround from a flat performance Sunday and stopped Meralco's seven-game charge with a crucial 100-95 victory in Game Two of their PBA Governors Cup best-of-five semifinal series at the MOA Arena in Pasay City Tuesday night.
But in the end, it was Alaska that dealt Meralco tremendous beating from the line.
Mike Harris, Simon Enciso and Chris Banchero led the way before the Aces knocked in critical charities at the finish to fend off the Bolts' endgame fightback and force a one-game-all deadlock in the series.
"We got out of a hole and we've now got a best-of-three," sighed Alaska coach Alex Compton.
The two teams slug it out again at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Cuneta Astrodome, with the winner moving on the threshold of the best-of-seven finals.
Curiously, Compton called an early timeout after his troops committed early fouls in the payoff quarter. "We can't afford to get early fouls and get to early foul-trouble situation," he reminded his team.
The Aces shot almost perfectly from the stripe (20-of-21), including the six-of-six by Jvee Casio and Enciso with the game on the line in the final minute.
"That was massive, especially as I think we're among those in the bottom (free throw shooting) in the tourney," said Compton.
Before the game, Alaska was good for only 11-of-17 free throws per match.
Those free throws came from the great energy, effort, aggressiveness the Aces put on after their 92-97 loss in Game One.
"It's our attention to detail that was radically different in the first half of the last game. That was horrible," said Compton. "We had much energy tonight. You can see the spirit of Meralco in the end. Hindi talaga biro at dapat mas maganda ang ipakita namin."
Bursting with energy were Harris, Enciso and Compton.
Harris came through with game-highs of 37 points and 19 rebounds, Enciso sizzled with five three-pointers and a career-high total of 23 while Banchero frolicked with a near triple-double with 13 markers, 11 boards and eight dole-outs.
Then there's Jvee Casio who knocked in four-of-four charities at endgame.
The Aces led by 20 at 66-46 but the Bolts rallied and got back into
the fight, 87-90, entering the homestretch.
Harris and the Alaska core group were hardly rattled, though, playing with steely nerves in the crunch to salvage the game.
Alaska 100 - Harris 37, Enciso 23, Banchero 13, Manuel 7, Baclao 6, Racal 5, Casio 4, Exciminiano 3, Teng 2, Thoss 0.
Meralco 95 - Durham 24, Salva 20, Amer 14, Hugnatan 12, Tolomia 10, Newsome 6, Caram 4, Canaleta 3, Faundo 2, Dillinger 0, Ballesteros 0.
Quarters: 23-21, 47-40, 74-60, 100-95.