WHILE they were given virtually a free pass to the national finals of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL), defending champions San Juan-Go for Gold Knights are still happy and proud to be back in the Big Dance regardless of how they were able to achieve it.

The Knights booked a spot in the MPBL Lakan Season national finals after defeating greatly undermanned Makati-Super Crunch, 131-54, in their North Division finals rubber match on Wednesday at the Subic Bay Gymnasium.

Makati only paraded five players in the win-or-go home match after disputes between management and players prevented the squad to have a full complement for the MPBL “bubble.”

That gave the Knights a huge advantage in the contest which they used to the hilt.

The team opened the game with a 15-0 run and never looked back from there.

“I just told the players not to be complacent despite the advantage that we had. And they responded well. They did not relax. They put in the effort needed to show that we deserve to win and be in the national finals,” said San Juan coach Randy Alcantara in Filipino after the game.

San Juan veteran John Wilson top-scored for his team with 22 markers followed by Jhonard Clarito with 20 points on top of 13 boards.

Philippine Basketball Association player Mike Ayonayon, who is honoring his commitment with San Juan, the team he played for before being drafted in the PBA, tallied his first triple-double in the league with 10 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists.

San Juan is now awaiting the winner of the Davao Occidental-Basilan knockout match in the Southern Division finals. The contest, originally set for Wednesday as well, was postponed over health and safety protocols after a Basilan player tested positive for the coronavirus.

The match is slated to be played on March 17 if the Basilan team tests negative in its next swab test.

The MPBL Lakan Season National Finals will be a best-of-five affair.

The MPBL was cleared to resume its stalled Lakan Season last week through new protocols set by the government. — Michael Angelo S. Murillo