Fifth-seeded Meralco Bolts used a total team effort scoring-wise, anchored by hot shooting from their guards as they defeated the NLEX Road Warriors, 97-82 in the opening game of the Commissioner’s Cup playoff games held at the Smart Araneta Coliseum on Friday afternoon.
Baskets did not find the bottom of the rim early for NLEX, as they struggled to execute their half court sets against Meralco’s defense. Gary David started the game for the Bolts by providing early buckets to give them a 9-2 gap to start the game. Furthermore, the Road Warriors first field goal of the playoffs came at the 7:32 mark of the first with a triple coming from Al Thornton, after missing their first five attempts. However, the pace was clearly dictated by Meralco with the back court tandem of David and Mike Cortez providing the needed stability at the start.
With Meralco playing zone, NLEX tried to score on perimeter baskets. A triple by Aldrich Ramos for the Road Warriors was quickly countered with a 6-0 run by the Bolts to build a 22-10 separation. After a ceasefire, Mac Cardona and Mark Macapagal exchanged baskets from downtown, but the local contribution for Meralco continued as they finished the first canto up by a commanding 15-point spread.
Thornton was still in the playing court to jump-start the second period. He ferociously tried to anchor an NLEX rally to keep the ball game close. A 9-0 burst to start was enough to slice the deficit down to six was capped by a Jonas Villanueva triple. As they got the stop in the ensuing play, Villanueva turned the ball over with a bad pass that triggered another scoring outburst by the locals of Meralco. The Bolts reinstalled a double-digit lead quickly with hoops coming from Gary David and Cliff Hodge.
The locals delivered tremendously for Meralco in the first half as they scored 41 points out of the 47 they established. Davis took care of the rebounding with 13 boards in the first 24 minutes of play.
Coming off the break, NLEX poured in a 9-2 rally to once again cut the deficit down to six. Meralco’s offense became stagnant with the Road Warriors defense coming in full display during the opening stretch of the second half. As NLEX clawed their way to a 45-51 game, Mike Cortez provided the drought-breaking baskets for Meralco added by a huge triple by Macapagal plus a foul, and suddenly the Bolts were up by 16 points.
With momentum gathered by the side of Meralco, NLEX responded with their own rally in the last four minutes of the period as Villanueva punched in a triple to keep the scoreboard running for the Road Warriors, and Thornton adding to it with his free throws. A rally-filled quarter ended with NLEX slicing the deficit again to single digits, but Cardona provided the counter basket with a floater to enter the last period up by eight.
Macapagal’s hot shooting continued during the fourth period, as they once again erected a double-digit separation. This time, however, the lead was for good. They cruised over the Road Warriors squad, who struggled to find their shots in the pivotal fourth period. Furthermore, with a 19-point spread with about six minutes to play, Meralco was poised down the stretch to bag home the game. Minimal scoring came in late for NLEX, and was obviously not enough as the Bolts jumped out on them to take care of the series opener.
Macapagal was on fire coming off the bench, as he finished the match with a team-high 22 point outing including five triples in 19 minutes of play. Thornton topped all scorers with 23, including 17 out of 23 from the charity stripe.
Meralco looks to finish the series off on Sunday, 5:15pm at the Smart Araneta Coliseum as they try to break their winless slump in their franchise in a best-of-three affair. The winner of this series will face the victor between the matchup of Ginebra and Rain or Shine with the Painters holding a twice-to-beat incentive.
Meralco(97) – Macapagal 22, Davis 16, Anthony 14, David 13, Hugnatan 10, Cortez 10, Hodge 7, Reyes 2, Ildefonso 2, Sena 0, Caram 0, Dillinger 0, Ferriols 0
NLEX(82) – Thornton 23, Cardona 17, Villanueva J. 13, Villanueva E. 6, Canaleta 8, Taulava 5, Ramos 4, Raymundo 2, Baloria 2, Lingganay 2, Camson 0, Arboleda 0
Quarters: 34-19, 47-36, 69-61, 97-82