SMART CLARK GIGA CITY – Meralco avoided an unceremonious exit as it escaped Barangay Ginebra, 83-80, to force sudden death in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup semis Wednesday at the AUF Sports and Cultural Center.
Reynel Hugnatan and Raymond Almazan came up with the biggest of plays on both ends down the stretch as the Bolts foiled the Gin Kings’ bid to close out the series and forced a winner-take-all Game Five on Friday.
“Well, I’m sure the players are very, very happy to get a chance to go into Game Five and have a chance to move on to the Finals,” said head coach Norman Black as they have a shot to make their first-ever All-Filipino Finals trip.
“But at the same time, we just have to go back and watch the game and figure out what it’s going to take to get the job done. I’m just happy that the players bounced back from our game three days ago,” he added.
Meralco actually looked like it was about to collapse after the 79-76 lead it held with 2:20 remaining in the game turned to an 80-79 deficit with 1:25 to go as Japeth Aguilar scored off a lay-up and a jumper off a pick-and-pop.
Ginebra had a chance to increase its lead further but Stanley Pringle missed his jumper. The same thing happened to Allein Maliksi, whose three-pointer from way downtown only managed to hit the front rim.
The Bolts, fortunately, would regain possession moments later after Nard Pinto forced a turnover on LA Tenorio with 20.1 seconds on the clock, serving as the prelude to Hugnatan’s end-game heroics.
Black originally designed a play for Chris Newsome during their timeout but the 6-foot-2 guard got covered well. But he saw the veteran forward wide open at the right-wing, and immediately kicked it out to him.
Hugnatan then flexed his veteranship, calmly making the long jumper with 15.1 seconds left to give his team the 81-80 lead.
“The play was actually between Reynel Hugnatan and Chris Newsome, and New was supposed to come off Reynel’s screen and he was open, he was supposed to take it,” Black recalled. “If he was not open, then you should look for Reynel, because that meant that both defenders probably went with Newsome and Reynel would be open. They executed it well but of course, you still got to make the shot.
“No matter how well you execute, you got to make the shot to finish the play and that’s a huge shot for Reynel Hugnatan,” he added.
Ginebra tried to regain the upper hand afterward, but Pringle’s shot got stuck in the back rim for a while although they managed to take the ball back as Almazan, per replays, had the last touch on it as it sailed outside.
Pringle tried once more and took it hard to the hoop for the make-or-break bucket but Almazan was there to block his shot with about seven ticks left.
“That was a huge block by Raymond. He’s really our inside defender, a guy we count on to be the last line of defense around the basket. He’s still not 100-percent yet, but he’s getting better,” Black lauded.
“That was just a huge defensive play for us. It gives us a chance to tie the series 2-2 and of course, to possibly win Game Five and move on to the Finals.”
The ball then went to Cliff Hodge, and he immediately threw a dime to a streaking Newsome on the other end for the easy lay-up that whammed the nail in the coffin and ensured the season-saving victory.
“I know that we went into this game thinking exactly how we thought when we went into the series against San Miguel, you have to win two games to move on. We got the first game now we have to try to get the second,” Black said.
Hugnatan finished with a game-high 19 points, on top of four rebounds and four assists. Newsome, meanwhile, finished with 16 points, 11 boards, a game-high six steals, and five dimes.
Hodge proved yet again that he plays best when it’s in a do-or-die situation as he produced 16 points of his own, on top of six caroms, three dimes, and three steals. Almazan, lastly, chimed in 11 markers.
“As long as the guys can just continue to play their roles, we might have a chance in Game Five,” said Black.
Pringle made 18 points, seven rebounds, and six assists to lead Ginebra. Former Bolt Jared Dillinger supplied 15 points, including the bucket that gave his side its first lead of the game, 52-51, in the third canto.
Scottie Thompson made 13 points, nine rebounds, and five assists as Aguilar had 12 markers and 12 boards in the loss.
Meralco (83) – Hugnatan 19, Hodge 16, Newsome 16, Almazan 11, Maliksi 8, Amer 4, Pinto 3, Black 2, Quinto 2, Jamito 2, Jackson 0.
Ginebra (80) – Pringle 18, Dillinger 15, Thompson 13, Aguilar 12, Tenorio 8, Caperal 8, Mariano 6, Tolentino 0, Devance 0.
Quarterscores: 26-21, 44-31, 60-64, 83-80.