Stars edge Risers to face Knights in north finals

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BALANGA — Manila Stars outlasted home team Bataan Risers, 56-51, in a grueling, defensive struggle late Monday night to set up a north division finals showdown with San Juan in the MPBL Datu Cup at the People’s Center here.

Riel Cervantes preserved his best game in the final match of the series as he knocked in 18 of his 20 points in the second half, including two treys in the crucial stretch, allowing the Stars’ big finishing kick to survive the Risers.

“I was able to gain momentum. I just felt it. Once I felt it, I was able to shoot with more confidence and help out my team,” Cervantes told BusinessWorld.

A PBA journeyman, who instantly cracked the starting line up for the star-studded Manila squad in the MPBL, Cervantes hit a triple in the 2:34 mark that pushed the Stars’ lead to six, 51-45.

With Bataan threatening at the last time trailing by only four, Cervantes, again, came to his team’s rescue and drilled in another triple with 1:09 left and put the Stars ahead, 54-47, to practically take the fight out of the home team and its fans which packed the arena.

Offensively, both teams still struggled as defense was given more premium. But even shots that have good looks were not falling in as no team shot better than 29 percent from the field.

Bataan shot 28 percent (19-of-66) while Manila hit even worse, making only 25 percent (20-of-80). But the Stars had a terrible time shooting from the foul line, making only 37 percent while Manila had 50 percent shooting (12-of-24).

“Whether we shoot good or bad, we don’t want to think about it, but we wanted to play good defense,” said Manila coach Philip Cezar. “Shooting is all about mental, so we just have to keep our focus. The more we think about it, the more chances we’re going to miss our shots. But playing defense should be done with consistency.”

Cezar will have a rematch with the team he once guided to the championship in the MBA — the San Juan Knights.

Marvin Hayes grabbed 16 rebounds, including eight on the offensive end as he led the Stars in getting more second chance points. Manila 19 second chance points, 11 more than its rival. — Rey Joble