Emerging victorious and undefeated are the Meralco Bolts, after outlasting the Phoenix Fuel Masters in a tough second half firefight, 90-87, Sunday afternoon at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After a trade of baskets early in the first quarter, Phoenix found the means to pull away thanks to RR Garcia, who nailed three consecutive threes to give the Fuel Masters a seven-point lead, 21-14, with four minutes left on the clock. Meralco import Arinze Onuaku struggled to revive the inside dominance he displayed in the opening minutes, and could not hit the right baskets to slow down the Phoenix Rally. At the end of the first twelve, Phoenix led 23-19.
In the second quarter, Phoenix found some much-needed help in sweet-shooting bigmen Mac Baracael and Rodney Brondial, who sank big baskets from every corner of the Fuel Masters’ end of the court to lead the league’s newest team to the biggest lead of the half, 42-30, at the halfway mark. Veteran Reynel Hugnatan and rookie Chris Newsome tried to keep the push alive for Meralco, with their import struggling to get his shots to fall, but the resurgence came too late in the quarter. At the half, the lead was still with the Fuel Masters, 47-40.
It was the rookie Newsome who led the charge for Meralco as the second half opened, nailing 8 points and collaborating with Cliff Hodge to bring the Bolts to the lead, 52-51, after the first four minutes of the third quarter. With the shots from both sides’ bigs now falling, the lead would trade hands play after play throughout the quarter. The twelve-minute trade of firepower that saw shots falling from every corner of the court ended with the score knotted once more, 67-all.
Neither team pulled on the breaks as the fourth quarter opened, with the high octane trade of baskets going strong as the final quarter drew on. With both squads’ imports and starters getting some much-needed rest, the bench unit would only troop to the court to keep the trade of salvos alive. Just past the halfway mark, rookie hero Newsome collaborated with import Onuako to lead Meralco to the first two-possession lead of the half, 85-80. The brewing Newsome rally, however, was cut short when the former Ateneo standout was brought to the bench after complaining of leg cramps. Free throws from Phoenix’s Willy Wilson and RR Garcia cut the lead to a hairline as the two-minute warning approached, 84-85.
A split charity from Gary David added another point to the Meralco lead, but veteran enforcer Willy Wilson answered back on the other end with a sneaky layup to knot the game with a minute and a half left. But the lead was handed back to the Bolts once more, when Jared Dillinger sank a breakaway triple to extend the lead to 89-86, with 45 ticks left on the clock.
The next two plays saw Phoenix import Kenny Adeleke split two free throw attempts, and Mac Baracael miss a three that could have given the Fuel Masters the lead. With less than 20 seconds left, the score was 89-87 in favor of Meralco.
The last possessions of the ball game saw a heartbreaking turn of events for Phoenix. A turnover by Kenny Adeleke and a missed triple from Josh Urbizontondo paved the way for Meralco to escape with the narrow win.
“I am proud of this team and this is a win to develop character for our future games,” coach Norman Black said after the game. “I had no idea what would happen to us after a 1-10 conference.”
“The scrimmages during the break helped us a lot.”
Rookie Chris Newsome took home Player of the Game honors with 16 points and 3 assists. Onuaku led the scoring for Meralco with 17, while Gary David and Jared Dillinger had 13 and 10 respectively.
RR Garcia led the scoring for Phoenix once more with 15 points, while Kenny Adeleke and Mac Baracael chipped in 13 apiece.
Meralco now sit at an undefeated 4-0 slate, while Phoenix slide to 1-1 after being dealt just their second loss. The Bolts will next face the Globalport Batang Pier on Sunday, February 28 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum. On the other hand, the Fuel Masters will have the Tropang TNT next on Saturday, February 27 at the SM Mall of Asia Arena.
Meralco (90) – Onuaku 17, Newsome 16, David 13, Dillinger 10, Amer 8, Hodge 8, Bono 4, Hugnatan 4, Nabong 4, Caram 2, Al-Hussaini 2, Faundo 2.
Phoenix (87) – Garcia 15, Adeleke 13, Baracael 13, Brondial 12, Wilson 10, Urbiztondo 9, Lanete 8, Monfort 5, Intal 2.
Quarterscores: 19-23, 40-47, 67-67, 90-87.