MANILA -- Meralco bubbled a 13-point lead but leaned on its defense to eliminate Star in overtime, 91-88, in Game 3 of the PBA Governors' Cup semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on Thursday night.
The Bolts almost let the Hotshots slip away in the second half to force a Game 4 but held fort in the extension to complete a 3-0 sweep of the best-of-five series.
After a blistering start by both teams, Meralco's defense swarmed Star in the second quarter, limiting the opposition to only 16 points as Meralco opened a 54-43 halftime lead. Cliff Hodge's layup to start the second half gave Meralco its largest lead at 56-43.
The Hotshots sizzled from then on, slowly chipping away the lead and eventually go up, 83-79, with 2:24 remaining in regulation.
Star's crucial scoring drought then began, failing to put away the game after Baser Amer's layup cut the lead to two, 83-81, with 1:55 to go in regulation.
Meralco even had a chance to steal the win in regulation as Chris Newsome scored on a layup to tie the game at 83-all with 1:22 to go in regulation plus a foul against Marc Pingris, but Newsome missed the bonus free throw.
Later in the game, Hodge's defense on Pingris forced Mark Barroca, who waxed hot in the second half, to go for a three-pointer hotly contested by Jared Dillinger. Barroca missed the triple, and Allen Durham called time with 3.7 seconds left after grabbing the rebound.
Durham, however, still failed to put Star out of contention as he missed a baseline jumper as time expired, sending the game to overtime.
Defense then took over for the Bolts in extra time, keeping the Hotshots scoreless for the first 4:24 of the period as Jared Dillinger's three and Ranidel De Ocampo's deep two put them ahead, 88-83.
Rafi Reavis finally put Star on the board with a layup with 36 seconds to go, but Cliff Hodge's pick-and-pop trey gave Meralco a 91-85 cushion with 18 seconds to go.
Barroca still kept the Hotshots with a quick triple that cut the lead down to three with 11.7 seconds to play.
With a foul to give, they then decided to gamble for the steal, forcing the jumpball with 7.3 seconds left.
Barroca won the tap, but with no timeout to use, they had to run the full length of the court only to see Jio Jalalon getting smothered by a triple team that kept him from even attempting a three at the buzzer.
Durham finished with 24 points, 19 rebounds, six assists, one steal, and one block for Meralco, which will await the winner of the other semifinal encounter between TNT and Ginebra in the finals. The said series is tied at 1-1 with Game 3 on Friday night at the said venue.
Hodge added 18 points, eight rebounds, three assists, and one steal.
Barroca came close to a triple-double, finishing with 21 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists with three steals and one block for Star. (PNA)
Meralco 91 - Durham 24, Hodge 18, De Ocampo 13, Amer 10, Dillinger 10, Newsome 9, Hugnatan 7, Lanete 0, Tolomia 0
Star 88 - Barroca 21, Pingris 16, Jalalon 12, Sangalang 8, Ramos 8, Dela Rosa 7, Reavis 6, Acox 4, Gamalinda 3, Melton 3, Simon 0
Quarterscores: 30-27, 54-43, 69-68, 91-88