For the fourth time in as many legs in the 2019 Chooks-to-Go Pilipinas 3x3 Patriot's Cup presented by Coca-Cola, there was a different champion.
Wilkins-Balanga Pure topped archrivals Gold's Gym-Pasig Kings in the final, 21-17 (1:26), Saturday afternoon at SM Megamall Events Center.
And the x-factor for Balanga in this tournament endorsed by FIBA 3X3 and sanctioned by the Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas was the return of Santi Santillan, who missed the first three legs.
"Laking bagay ni Santi kasi lalo kaming lumaki. Grabe din yung mga shots niya," said Alvin Pasaol as Santillan was a huge part in the then-1Bataan Risers' second-place finish in the President's Cup two months ago.
With Balanga behind 8-9 midway through the finale, Santillan knocked down a quick deuce to spark a 7-2 run to gain a four-point edge.
"Yun lang nasa isip ko. Sabi ko sa sarili ko nakapag bumalik ako ng 3x3, dapat champion ako. Na-miss ko yung larong ito," said Santillan.
Pasig's 1-2 punch Taylor Statham and Joshua Munzon rallied their squad back, cutting the lead to just two with 2:29 remaining, 16-18.
Prince Orizu though was able to stop Balanga's bleeding while Pasaol sent Balanga to championship-point with 1:55 left.
Pasaol then made sure to end the game, scoring on a tough runner over Nikola Pavlovic and Taylor Statham with 1:26 to spare to bag the PhP 100, 000 pot.
Pasaol and Santillan had eight and seven markers, respectively, while Karl Dehesa added five points.
Munzon paced Pasig with 10 points, all on deuces.
Pasig and Balanga will enter the Grand Finals on Saturday, July 27 still at SM Megamall as the second- and third-seeds, respectively.
Balanga dropped VetHealth-Delhi 3BL down to solo fourth (290 points) after taking a thrilling 21-20 (1:04) semifinals win.
In the other bracket, Pasig eliminated third leg champs Phenom-Basilan Steel, 17-7. Still, Basilan will enter the last leg as the top -seed with 330 points.
The top four teams will automatically gain a quarterfinals berth for the fifth leg that has PhP 1, 000, 000 and a ticket to the 2019 Jeddah Masters as top prize.
The bottom eight teams, on the other hand, will compete in a knockout stage to advance to the quarterfinals.
In the side events, Delhi's Kiran Shastri won the Coca-Cola Two-Point Shootout for the fourth straight time while Jebb Bulawan ended David Carlos' four-peat bid in the Coca-Cola Slam Dunk Competition.