By Leobert Julian A. de la Peña
What a win.
It only takes guts and sheer will to pull off a massive victory like this. The Iloilo United Royals deserve their flowers.
After trailing by as much as 23 points in the third quarter, the United Royals played a flawless second half to stun the no. 1 seed Bacoor City Strikers, 89-86, in the ongoing Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) playoffs last October 7, 2023, held at the STRIKE Gym in Bacoor, Cavite.
CJ Catapusan played hero ball for the United Royals after the stretch forward drilled the game-winning three-pointer to break the 86-all deadlock.
With only 4.6 seconds left in the intense back-and-forth, Catapusan received the ball from the top of the key, executed a ball hand-off play with Shaq Imperial, and went to his spot in the left elbow to hoist the most important shot for Iloilo.
It was a cold start for the Ilonggo hoopers as their shooting woes prevented them from executing their offensive schemes.
Bacoor then took advantage of their low percentage from the field goal that swelled up their advantage to 20 points at the end of the half.
The Strikers were pretty much in control after star Jhan Nermal knocked down a trifecta that opened up a 23-point cushion for Bacoor.
Just when Bacoor thought the affair would be a walk in the park, the United Royals suddenly found life after locating their stroke from the three-point range.
It was probably one of the most massive offensive counter-runs in the ongoing MPBL post-season as Iloilo mounted a jaw-dropping 26-3 scoring in just seven minutes of the third frame led by the hot-shooting of Lorenzo Navarro, Andrey Armenion, Joshua Flores, Marlon Basco, and Imperial.
As Imperial tied the game at 63-all after a trey from the right elbow, Nermal was able to answer a three on the other end to regain the lead for the Strikers.
With 40 seconds remaining before the final period kicks off, the United Royals finally had the lead, 67-66, off made shots from the charity stripe.
It was a thrilling fourth quarter as both squads figured in an exchange of leads with no team extending their advantage to as much as eight points.
In the last 16 seconds of the ball game and Bacoor trailing by a point, 86-85, the Strikers had the chance to take the lead after Chito Jaime was fouled in an attempt to shoot a leaning jumper.
However, he split his shots from the free throw line, tying the game at 86-all, which gave Iloilo head coach MC Abolucion enough time to draw the game-winning play.
Catapusan then delivered for the United Royals and gave Iloilo a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three Southern Division playoffs.
Navarro top-scored for Iloilo with 16 points and 14 assists backstopped by Flores who put up 14 points and 10 rebounds.