SUBIC — Billy Robles foiled a drive by Mike Ayonayon at crunch time as the Davao Occidental Tigers preserved a come-from-behind 77-75 overtime victory over the San Juan Knights in the Chooks-to-Go MPBL National Finals opener on Wednesday at the closed-door Subic Bay Gym.
Mike Yee took charge of the offense for the Cocolife-backed Tigers with 5 points in the extra period and was supported by Joseph Terso with 4 points.
The Tigers, who trailed by as many as 11 points, 34-45, in the third quarter could have won the game in regulation but failed on two hurried tries in the last 23.7 seconds for a 68-68 count.
With Davao ahead, 76-75, Ayonayon, San Juan’s go-to-guy, elevated for an inside thrust only to be thwarted by Robles’ outstretched arm.
“We poured it all to win,” said Yee, fully recovered from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) injury he suffered before the MPBL took a forced break due to COVID-19 was named best player with 15 points, eight rebounds, and three assists.
Davao coach Don Dulay could only heave a sigh of relief as the Tigers clawed their way back from a 57-65 deficit with only 3:05 to go.
“It was a big challenge,” said Dulay. “We never had a tune-up game we go hard on practices but it isn’t the same. My team came ready to play.”
There’s no reason to celebrate, however, as Dulay said his wards need to “rest and brace for another hard game tomorrow (Thursday).
Eman Calo also scored 15 points for the Tigers while Robles came through with 9 points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
Ayonayon, already an NLEX Road Warrior who rejoined the Knights for the Finals, fired a game-high 27 points to go with five assists and three rebounds.
John Wilson added 15 points for San Juan, which drew nine points and 11 rebounds from Jhonard Clarito and nine points and 10 rebounds from Larry Rodriguez.
Game 2 will start at 4:15 p.m. on Thursday. The Finals take a break Friday and will resume with Game 3 on Saturday.
If necessary, Game 4 will be held Sunday and Game 5 Friday.
Before Game 1 started, Dulay received the South Division championship trophy from MPBL Commissioner Kenneth Duremdes, assisted by Deputy Commissioner Zaldy Realubit.
San Juan team owner Jinggoy Estrada and Alcantara received the North Division trophy for the Knights.