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Meralco shrugs off slow start, pulls away from Star

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After a dismal Philippine Cup outing, the Meralco Bolts may have finally found the big man who can take them to the next level.

Arinze Onuaku scored 25 points to free up Norman Black’s offense and win in their 2016 PBA Commissioner’s Cup debut, 90-86, against the Star Hotshots Wednesday evening at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

Powered by six early points from returning import Denzel Bowles, the Hotshots built an 8-0 lead within the first three minutes of play. Quick-fire shooting from PJ Simon and Allein Maliksi gave Star the 15-4 lead at the halfway mark of the quarter. A sluggish start from Meralco reinforcement Arinze Onuaku, who scored his first basket with three minutes left in the quarter, only gave the Hotshots room to keep momentum on their side. Despite a late push from the Meralco gunners, the lead was still with Star at the end of the first twelve minutes, 26-18.

Back-to-back baskets from Onuaku and Baser Amer cut the lead to a manageable six, 26-32, early in the second. Led by Anjo Caram, the Bolts managed to trim the deficit to two, 34-36, with around six minutes left to play. But the brewing Meralco blitz was easily doused by Mark Barroca, who answered for the Hotshots with a bucket underneath and a breakaway triple to extend the lead to seven, 41-34. But with no intention of slowing down again, the Bolts were able to keep pace, and with a minute left, the Hotshots’ lead was a mere point, 43-42, following a basket with a drawn foul by rookie Chris Newsome. Newsome, however, went on to miss the charity, and at the half, the lead was unchanged.

Baskets from Onuaku and Kelly Nabong early in the third put up Meralco for the first time in the ball, 46-45, with just around two minutes gone from the second half. With the shots now falling wherever they pleased, the Bolts would manage to lead by as much as six in the quarter. But the tided would turn anew, as a revitalized Bowles sparked a 7-0 run that put the Hotshots back up, 57-56, with five minutes left to play. The two sides continued to trade baskets and leads for the remainder of the quarter. At the end of another twelve minutes, it was Meralco who had the lead, 67-64.

The fourth quarter opened to another trade of firepower, but with six minutes gone by, baskets from Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge gave the Bolts enough space to build a 79-72 lead. Another explosion from their import Onuaku gave the Bolts a taste of a double-digit lead, 83-73, with four minutes left to play. With their front court finally coming alive, it was the Bolts’ turn to control the pace. With two minutes left, the Meralco was at six, 87-81.

But the Hotshots refused to be disposed of so easily. With less than a minute left to play, PJ Simon completed a four-point play to inject some life into the Star campaign and come within two, 86-88. It was Onuako who gave the Bolts some much needed breathing room, sinking a hook shot on the other end to extend the lead to four, 90-86, with 17 ticks left on the clock. The Hotshots went to Simon once more in their last ditch effort to salvage the game, but the “Shooting Apostle” was unable to sink the much-needed three. At the buzzer, the Bolts walked away with the win.

Onuaku had 25 points and 22 rebounds in an impressive debut for the Bolts. Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge led the Meralco locals with 16 and 12 markers respectively. Returning import Bowles had 20 points and 15 boards for the Hotshots.

The Scores:

Meralco (90) – Onuaku 25, Newsome 16, Hodge 12, Amer 10, David 8, Nabong 7, Alapag 6, Caram 4, Faundo 2, Bono 0, Dillinger 0, Hugnatan 0.

Star (86) – Bowles 20, Maliksi 14, Simon 12, Barroca 11, Pingris 8, Sanggalang 5, Yap 5, Pascual 4, Melton 4, Cruz 3, Reavis 0, Torres 0.

Quarterscores: 18-26, 42-43, 67-65, 90-86

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