MANILA, July 6, 2006 (STAR) By Nelson Beltran - Kerby Raymundo dished out a performance worthy of Most Valuable Player plum and Richard Yee came through with key plays down the stretch as Purefoods whipped Red Bull, 101-97, in the opener of the Gran Matador Brandy PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Araneta Coliseum last night.

Raymundo scored a career-high 30 points while Yee added 12 points including five crucial free throws in the last two minutes, powering the Giants to the morale-boosting head start in the best-of-seven title playoff.

Riding the momentum of their stirring comeback win in the Final Four, the Giants erected an early 19-point lead but wavered in the third quarter and had to regroup at the finish in drawing first blood in the series.

"As you see tonight, it’s going to be a battle and nobody would give an inch. The only trend I can see right now is that no one’s going to give up," said coach Ryan Gregorio moments after his Giants survived the gut-wrenching series opener.

"The only advantage we’ve got right now is that we only need three more games to win the series. But Red Bull is so composed as what they’d shown in this game. They easily wiped out our 19-point first half lead," Gregorio also said.

Trailing 34-53 at the half, the Bulls made a fiery chase in the third quarter and even enjoyed a six-point lead, 78-72, early in the payoff period. They were still ahead at 97-94 but went scoreless in the last 1:55 of play.

Yee canned in two charities off a foul by Enrico Villanueva to tie the count at 97-all then Raymundo scored on a 15-foot- jumper also off the hulking Red Bull slotman as Purefoods surged ahead to stay at 99-97 with time down to 30.9 seconds.

Mick Pennisi missed a three-point attempt coming off the bench with 22 ticks to go, and Purefoods all but sealed its win on a free throw by Noy Castillo in the ensuing play.

"I guess our mistake was that we only competed in the second half. Our defense was terrible. We picked it up in the second half but breaks went against us at endgame," said Red Bull coach Yeng Guiao.

Alaska Milk, coming off a heartbreaking defeat to Purefoods in their semifinals showdown, settled for third-place honors following a 102-95 win over San Miguel Beer in the first game.

"The positive aspect that I saw in this game is that we can win if we play. Mabilis namin nahabol yung 19-point lead nila," Guiao added.

Raymundo and Yee both completed a double-double game and James Yap also had a big showing with 26 points before fouling out with 2:14 left to play.

Lordy Tugade rifled in 30 points to pace the Bulls who also drew double-digit outputs from Villanueva with 25 and Paolo Bugia with 10.

Purefoods pummeled Red Bull with a 60.9-percent field-goal shooting in the second quarter and the Giants, nursing a 23-22 edge at the end of the opening period, zoomed to a 53-34 spread at halftime

The Bulls bled for 12 points on an atrocious 30-percent shooting clip in the second quarter and finished the opening half with their worst output in their last nine games.

Raymundo and Peter Simon had the biggest hands in their second-quarter onslaught with the former tossing in 12 points and the latter eight, including an astonishing left-handed lay-up against Pennisi that sent the crowd up on their feet.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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