MANILA, Philippines – San Miguel Alab Pilipinas kept rolling after a series sweep over Saigon Heat, stunning the Asean Basketball League (ABL) champion Hong Kong Eastern, 98-94, in Game 1 of their semifinal series at the Southern Stadium in Hong Kong, Wednesday, April 11.
Renaldo Balkman was unconscious all night long, leading all scorers with a record-breaking 46 points on 18/27 shooting with 14 rebounds and 4 assists. Justin Brownlee, meanwhile, just missed out on a triple-double with 16 points, 12 boards and 9 assists. Captain Bobby Ray Parks was no slouch either, chipping in 23 markers and 10 boards as all three leaders of Alab finish with double-doubles in the win.
Balkman’s 46 eclipses the previous ABL playoff best of 45 points set by Justin Howard in the 2015-2016 season.
Eastern early on showed why they were the defending champs, as they stunned the visiting Alab with a 20-6 blitz off the drives and triples of Tyler Lamb. The PBA’s 2018 1st overall pick Christian Standhardinger, meanwhile, made sure his current team got their money’s worth as he grabbed rebound after rebound on the scattered Alab Pilipinas. Parks, however, settled his squad down with a crucial buzzer-beater to end the opening quarter with a 14-25 deficit.
Parks got the momentum he wished for as Alab suddenly blazed to an 8-0 run to open the second, highlighted with hard drives by Renaldo Balkman and a tomahawk flush by Justin Brownlee. From here on it was a shootout, as both squads ran the floor in transition and got bucket after bucket. Alab eventually won the crisscross match after two big triples from Parks and Pao Javelona, who converted a 4-point play on the break to yank away the lead from Eastern, 47-43. Balkman put the exclamation point on a 36-point Alab quarter with a second-straight buzzer-beating layup for the red-shirt visitors, 50-43.
The Philippine team smartly kept their distance in the third with smothering defense and even pulled away some more on offense from the champs. After being down by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, they successfully turned the tables with their own 14-point advantage, 73-59, after a bullying offensive tip-in by Parks with two minutes left in the period. Alab wrapped up the third up 13, 75-62.
Marcus Elliot, however, was not ready to lie down and get ran over at home. Early into the payoff period, he scored 7 straight points in a 12-2 run by the Eastern to cut the deficit to 5, 74-79. However, Balkman just kept on gunning to keep the lead safe for Alab. Standhardinger responded in kind with an and-one at the 3-minute mark of the period to creep within 3, 86-89.
While Balkman was gunning for the ABL record, Lamb and Ki Lee did their thing from the perimeter, tying the game at 94 on two long bombs with 56 ticks left in regulation. However, Balkman was fouled off the offensive board and finally set the new record after going 2/2 from the line. Most importantly, his charities put Alab back up by two, 96-94. Brownlee was fouled after HK blanked on offense and sealed the deal with two more charities for the 98-94 lead.
Alab now goes home for Game 2 on Sunday, April 15, carrying a huge 1-0 lead over the defending ABL champions.
San Miguel Alab Pilipinas (98) – Balkman 46, Parks 23, Brownlee 16, Domingo 6, Javelona 3, Raymundo 2, Hontiveros 2, Urbiztondo 0, Alabanza 0, Celiz 0
Hong Kong Eastern (94) – Lamb 32, Elliot 22, Standhardinger 18, Lee 10, Moss 5, Lau 3, Tang 2, Xu 2
Quarter Scores: 14-25, 50-43, 75-62, 98-94