MANILA – San Juan Knights booked the first seat in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) Finals after trouncing Makati Super Crunch, 131-54, in the long-awaited resumption of the playoffs at the Subic Bay Gymnasium on Wednesday night.

Exactly a year after the league last played before the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic went full-blown in the Philippines, the Knights put up a historic performance against a heavily undermanned Super Crunch squad.

With most of the key players not around due to a reported management issue, Makati, which only brought in exactly five homegrown players including former University Athletic Association of the Philippines star Edwin Asoro and professional dunker David Carlos to the Subic bubble, struggled against the full force San Juan, which even got to bring back NLEX player Mike Ayonayon to finish his MPBL stint.

The Knights opened the game on a 15-0 run, and the Super Crunch only got to break the ice at the 5:40 mark of the first quarter on a Bhabap Sta. Maria field goal.

It was essentially San Juan's show all game long as the team's 77-point winning margin set an MPBL record for the most lopsided victory, eclipsing Bacoor City's 109-56 rout of Parañaque during the regular season back in 2019.

John Wilson led the Knights with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting, six rebounds, four assists, and two steals in just 18 minutes of play.

Jhonard Clarito added 20 points, 13 rebounds, four assists, and two blocks off the bench.

Ayonayon, who was cleared by the PBA to make an MPBL return, added a triple-double of 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists with one block.

Asoro led the Super Crunch with 21 points, two rebounds, one assist, four blocks, and one steal.

San Juan will have to wait a little longer before they can determine their opponent in the national finals as the South Division final between Basilan (and Davao Occidental has been postponed due to a suspected Covid-19 case within the Basilan camp.

Early troubles

Trouble marred the MPBL bubble right before it even started after the league confirmed earlier in the day that a member of the Steel was tested positive for Covid-19.

The MPBL did not disclose who the player was, but they placed Basilan in isolation.

"We are under seven days quarantine," head coach Jerson Cabiltes said.

The Steel will all be retested next week, and those tested negative might be able to take on the Tigers in their knockout game, which has been moved to next Wednesday.

'Small victory'

Despite being on the wrong end of what would be the biggest blowout in Philippine basketball at least in recent memory, Carlos said the Super Crunch fought until the end.

"Sa amin accomplishment na 'yon. Small victory na 'yon dahil kaming lima lumaban kaming united (For us it is an accomplishment. It is considered a small victory because we all played united)," he quipped. "Kahit na 'yung resulta ay hindi namin gusto, but nagawa naman namin 'yung game plan namin. Hindi kami sumabay sa takbuhan nila. Nag-zone kami the whole game (Even if we do not like the result, we still did our game plan. We did not keep pace with them in the running game. We played zone defense the entire game)."

He then said that he is dedicating the game to the "Makatizens".

"Ginawa namin ito para sa mga taga-Makati, para matapos namin on a high note 'yung liga (We did this for the Makati residents so that we can finish the league on a high note)," Carlos said.

Henry Subido, who was named Makati's interim coach before the game, commended Carlos, Asoro, Sta. Maria, Carlo Lloren, and Kako Morales for the gallant stand despite the insurmountable odds.

"Malaking bagay na inilaro pa nila 'yung game considering na five players lang sila (It is a great thing that they still played the game considering that there are only five players in the team). It speaks a lot about their character," the Super Crunch mentor said. "They did a great job for sacrificing a lot knowing that they'll be playing na sila-sila lang (all by themselves)."

Even the Knights could not help but be amazed by the Super Crunch's heart.

"Credit din sa lima ng Makati. Mahirap maglaro ng lima lang ah! 'Yung pace pa namin takbuhan (Credit goes to the Makati five. It is hard to play with only five players! All the more that we like to hasten the pace)," Ayonayon said.

"Thank you sa Makati at sa mga players na talagang nagpakita pa rin sila. Kulang lang sila pero 'yung sa effort nakita namin na gusto rin talaga nila maglaro at manalo (Thank you to Makati and to its players who still showed up. They may be undermanned, but based on their efforts, we observed that they also wanted to play and win)," added Knights coach Randy Alcantara.

But he is also aware that they have a job to do.

"Sinabi ko sa mga players huwag tumingin kung sino ang kalaban namin. Ipinakita ng mga players na hindi sila nag-relax, nag-effort pa rin sila para makita na convincing win talaga (I told the players not to look at who we are facing. The players showed that they did not relax, and they still put up an effort to show that it is really a convincing win)," Alcantara said.

Meanwhile, former Makati coach Beaujing Acot, who still joined the team in the bubble but as a consultant now, still got to thank his team's key players despite not making it to the Metro Olongapo area.

"Very proud ako sa inyo (I am very proud of all of you). I know you deserve to be here. Everybody deserves to be here but there are things I cannot control. We also have to understand I'm just an employee also," Acot said. (PNA)