Gani Lawal made sure that Raymond Almazan’s Meralco Bolts debut ended on the right note.
Lawal took over in the end-game, lifting Meralco past the depleted Phoenix Pulse Fuel Masters, 101-95, to go above .500 for the first time in the 2019 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, Friday evening at SMART Araneta Coliseum.
The Nigerian-American scored nine of the Bolts’ last 15 points, including the split free throws with 24.6 ticks left to play that gave them a 99-95 cushion that finished the Fuel Masters, who knocked within one with 2:01 remaining.
Lawal finished with 28 points and 26 rebounds in the win that improved Meralco’s record to 3-2.
“Gani Lawal came out with a lot of energy. He kept scoring inside — he made a big difference for us offensively,” lauded Bolts head coach Norman Black of Lawal, who only had 19 and 12 in their win versus Rain or Shine last May 31.
“He did a much better job in helping us win tonight,” he continued.
The locals were once again pivotal in the victory. Baser Amer produced 20 points, four rebounds, and four assists; Chris Newsome had 18 points, six boards, six dimes, and a steal, as Nico Salva chimed in 15 markers and seven caroms.
“A lot of locals also stepped up tonight. I thought the locals really helped Lawal on the offensive end,” Black said.
Almazan has finally made his awaited debut for the Bolts, who acquired him via trade with Rain or Shine just prior to the mid-season joust. He saw action for nearly 13 minutes and had three points, one rebound, one assist, and one steal.
Matthew Wright had 20 points to lead Phoenix, who was without head coach Louie Alas and Calvin Abueva as the two are currently serving suspensions.
Import Richard Howell, who took the place of the injured Rob Dozier, had himself a frustrating return to the PBA as he got fouled out. The former Best Import exited the match with eight points and nine rebounds.
Both Meralco and Phoenix will see action again this Sunday, June 9, at Ynares Center in Antipolo City. The Bolts will face the Alaska Aces at 4:30 PM, as the Fuel Masters will take on the Elasto Painters at 6:45 PM.
Meralco 101 – Lawal 28, Amer 20, Newsome 18, Salva 15, Quinto 8, De Ocampo 6, Almazan 3, Pinto 3, Hodge 0, Jackson 0, Caram 0, Hugnatan 0.
Phoenix 95 – Wright 20, Perkins 16, Jazul 12, Marcelo 10, Howell 8, Mallari 7, Chua 6, Dennison 5, Intal 5, Kramer 4, Revilla 2, Wilson 0.
Quarterscores: 21-19, 46-47, 80-72, 101-95.