MANILA – Nueva Ecija drew first blood in the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League (MPBL) National Finals after trouncing Zamboanga in Game 1 of the best-of-five series, 81-75, at the Nueva Ecija Coliseum in Palayan on Friday night.

Nueva Ecija seized control of the game within the final three minutes of the game as the team went on a 9-2 run to take a 76-67 lead with 46.9 seconds left.

Zamboanga tried to sneak back into the game with its superb perimeter shooting down the stretch, but Hesed Gabo nailed clutch free throws in the end to seal the deal.

Gabo finished with 22 points, six rebounds, and six assists, while Villarias added 19 points, two rebounds, one assist, and two steals to lead Nueva Ecija, which will host Game 2 on Monday night.

Michael Mabulac finished with 14 points and five rebounds, and his last field goal, a layup with 7:55 remaining, made him the 13th member of the league's 1,000 Points Club.

Cris Dumapig made 15 points, going 5-for-5 from the field, and six rebounds for Zamboanga, which looks to tie the series before it shifts to its turf, the Vitaliano Agan Coliseum in Zamboanga, for Game 3 next Friday. (PNA)