No new faces in the post-season this conference. Powered by fiery shooting from Jared Dillinger and a couple of big defensive stops in the final minute of play, the Meralco Bolts put an end to expansion team Kia Sorento’s hopes of entering the playoffs, outgunning the Manny Pacquiao-coached squad 99-93, Wednesday evening at the Araneta Coliseum.
Jared Dillinger had 25 points and 7 rebounds for the Bolts, who led by as many as 23 points in the second quarter but saw the margin decimated in a massive third quarter surge by the Sorento.
A suffocating fullcourt press and excellent outside shooting powered the Bolts to a 23-6 lead in the first six minutes of the opening quarter. Boosted by Jared Dillinger’s 13 first quarter points, the Bolts would continue to find success attacking the basket, eventually closing out the quarter with a 34-19 lead. The Meralco would go on well into the second quarter, Kia unable to put an end to the bleeding. At the half, the Bolts led by a commanding 60-39.
The Sorento’s fortunes finally turned around halfway in the third quarter, as a 17-6 run that spanned five minutes saw the league newcomers trim the Bolts’ cushion to a mere seven points, 69-62, at the 2:35 mark of the third quarter. Boosted by a couple of big baskets from Reil Cervantes and recent acquisition, Kia finally trimmed the lead to a mere four points, and entering the final minute of the quarter, came within striking distance at 69-71 after two free-throw charities from Hans Thiele. With around 20 seconds left on the clock, Cervantes knocked down a breakaway three to give Kia their first taste of the lead, 72-71, but John Wilson responded on the other to end to put the Bolts back on top, 73-72, just before the buzzer.
The two belligerents traded baskets and possession of the lead early in the fourth quarter, but a 12-2 run around the halfway point of the quarter saw Meralco gain momentum anew to lead by as many as nine, 92-83. Heading into the final two minutes, the Bolts still led by six, 96-90. The score remained unchanged after both teams struggled to score in the following a minute, and with under sixty seconds to go, Jopher Custodio managed to pull-up for a sneaky three-pointer to get Kia within striking distance, 93-96. The Boxing Champions’ boy would manage to force a Meralco turnover in the following possession to get a hold of the ball before calling timeout, 48.8 tics left on the clock.
Hans Thiele had the chance to get Kia within striking distance, but was unable to pull-up for the easy basket, troubled by the Bolts’ defense. A split free-throw charity from Sean Anthony gave Meralco the two-possession lead, 97-93, with thirty seconds left on the clock. Reil Cervantes had the chance to give Kia with a trey, but the ball would bounce off the rim. A Cliff Hodge fastbreak jam on the other end would prove to be the icing on the cake for Meralco and the final nail in the coffin for the expansion team.
Cliff Hodge contributed 17 points and 10 rebounds to the Meralco cause. Reil Cervantes led Kia with 18 points. The Bolts improve to 5-5, while Kia slides to 1-9. The expansion team coached by boxing star Rep. Manny Pacquiao have not won since trouncing fellow league newcomers Blackwater Elite on the opening day of the Philippine Cup.