San Juan City stepped up in the crunch to turn back AICC Manila, 80-74, and draw the first blood in their best-of-three finals of the FilBasket Subic Championship at the Subic gym Saturday.
The Knights unleashed a 10-1 run with 4:29 left courtesy of Renato Ular, Larry Rodriguez, Alvin Abundo and Jhonard Clarito to grab the 75-68 lead for good from a 66-65 deficit.
The feat not only avenged San Juan’s 75-69 eliminations defeat to Manila last Nov. 15 but also put the Knights a win away from clinching the crown.
Former University of Santo Tomas playmaker Rhenz Abando, who will suit up for Letran in the next NCAA season, fired 17 points on a six-of-nine field goal shooting to steer San Juan, while skipper Orlan Wamar chipped in 12 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Rodriguez added 10 points on top of seven boards while Clarito contributed nine points, 11 rebounds and three assists.
San Juan, who booked a finals berth after surviving Davao Occidental, 85-84, in the knockout semifinals Friday, started hot by pulling away from a 15-14 opening quarter lead to 40-29 at the half.
Manila, however, sizzled in the third with a 30-18 blast spearheaded by Chris Bitoon and Hesed Gabo to grab the 59-58 upperhand entering the fourth.
The Knights refused to be intimidated with Abando steering the crew and Ular and Rodriguez stepping up in the pivotal stretch.
Gabo and Bitoon finished with 22 and 15 points for Manila, but San Juan proved too much to handle.
San Juan also banked on its bench led by Abando, Rodriguez and Ular by scoring 49 points.
Game 2 of the finals is on Sunday with the Knights aiming for a sweep.