(STAR) By Nelson Beltran - James Yap returned with vengeance in his eyes after a one-game suspension and engineered Purefoods’ 89-81 victory over Sta. Lucia Realty last night to force a winner-take all match in the championship showdown.

Yap groped for form early on but caught fire in the final period as he led the Giants to the victory that forged a three-game deadlock in the Smart Philippine Cup best-of-seven title series.

Marc Pingris and Kerby Raymundo pulled off career-high numbers as they also played key roles in helping the Giants keep alive their bid for a record-tying fifth All-Filipino crown to the delight of their cheering supporters in the jampacked Araneta Coliseum.

The two teams take a three-day rest before clashing in a do-or-die tiff Sunday at the same venue.

“We wanted to survive against all odds and that’s what we did tonight,” said coach Ryan Gregorio as his troops stayed in the hunt for the coveted crown they last won in 2006.

“It’s just great to have your MVP present on the court if it’s survival time. He showed and led us the way. He carried us to victory in this crucial game. That’s why he’s the best player in the league right now,” said Gregorio of Yap’s performance.

“My mindset each game is to help the team. This game is special since we’re playing with our back against the wall,” said Yap.

The former UAAP star from UE erupted for 20 points in the fourth quarter and finished with a game-high 30. Curiously, the 2006 MVP winner was 3-of-18 from the field in the first three quarters of play.

Pingris provided tremendous energy, hauling down a career-high 21 rebounds while Raymundo played unselfishly, dishing out a career-best 11 assists.

Sta. Lucia top man Kelly Williams grabbed 17 rebounds but was limited to nine points – the first time he finished in single digit in their last 26 games.

“I think they’re (the Realtors) destructed. I saw the balloons in the ceiling. My prayer was for the balloons not to fall down. Probably they thought we’re just gonna roll over and die, but we have a solid heart and we don’t back down from challenges,” said Gregorio.

“Game Six is like Game Seven. We’ll be fighting for survival. We showed our survival instinct tonight and we intend to do the same Sunday. We want to end this tourney on top,” Gregorio added.

Yap made another promise to again come out strong in the do-or-die setto.

The Negrense fired five treys in the payoff period with two highlighting an eight-to-nothing run that moved the Giants in front to stay at 65-61.

From a 71-69 count, Yap rattled in eight straight points as Purefoods gained a commanding 79-70 spread with time down to three minutes.

Non factor the last game, Pingris went to work right in the first half, hauling down 13 rebounds and tossing in nine points as the Giants took a 40-30 lead at the turn.

The Giants established control early, enjoying three 10-point spreads in the first two quarters of play.

The Realtors played the catch-up basketball most of the first half while shooting only 28.6 percent from the field.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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