The Blue Eagles didn't shoot well. But...
One team almost missed the Finals after getting pushed to a do-or-die game back in the Final 4. Fortunately, that team managed to hang on and got things done. On the other hand, the other team made the Finals after dealing with their Final 4 problem in just one game- despite the controversies surrounding the apparent "biased" officiating that their opponents were whining about a day after the game was played.
As a result, we are treated to another Ateneo-La Salle Finals slugfest. And Game 1 of the best-of-3 championship series didn't disappoint the 15,000 fans who watched at the Mall of Asia Arena yesterday as they were treated to a heated game- a typical scene for an Ateneo-La Salle game.
Blood spilled. Elbows were thrown. Bodies were flying everywhere. In the end, the Blue Eagles were able to score just enough and defend late in the 4th quarter to take Game 1 via a 76-70 win over the Green Archers in a game wherein two-time MVP Ben Mbala was not a factor, at all.
So how did the Blue Eagles pull off another victory against the mighty Archers? Below are the numbers:
Defense on Big Ben
Like it or not, defending Ben Mbala can be a big headache for any team. But in Game 1 of the Finals, not only did Ateneo defenders force Mbala to miss 4 of his SEVEN attempts which resulted to him only scoring 8 points throughout the game, the Blue Eagles defended Mbala so well that he was forced into making 3 turnovers. He also had 4 fouls although he did grab 12 rebounds for the Archers.
Matt Nieto met Ben Mbala's powerful elbow and sustained a cut in his head. Bloody cut, indeed.
After seeing his twin brother getting hurt, Mike got to retaliate in the second half by scoring all of his 11 points in the final 20 minutes of the game and that was one of the good reasons why Ateneo came out on top. Even though La Salle was threatening late in the game as they cut the lead to a single point, Mike Nieto made sure that the Blue Eagles held on as he also had help from Thirdy Ravena and Isaac Go who scored the three-point play to ice the game.
Sure, the Blue and White only shot 36% from the field including 27% from the three-point line but they managed to fish 25 fouls from the La Salle defenders which enabled Ateneo to take 30 free throws, making 20. La Salle, on the other hand, went 11 of 19 from the free throw line.
This series is definitely far from over and if you're Ateneo, expect La Salle, most especially Ben Mbala to come out more aggressive come Game 2 on Wednesday. La Salle hasn't lost two straight games in 2 seasons. And we can be sure that Aldin Ayo doesn't intend to break that run now.