Cliff Hodge finished with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and three assists in his most productive outing of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup yet as Meralco won over Mahindra, 94-86 Sunday night.
The energetic forward scored 18 in the first half alone, and went on to shoot 11-for-15 from the field to help the Bolts stay on top of the conference with a 7-2 record.
Hodge is better known for his hustle and defense, but getting involved offensively as well is a big boost for the Bolts. Later after the game, Hodge credited the presence of Bolts import Arinze Onuaku, who helped him post such numbers.
“All of us have to take advantage of how they are going to play Arinze (Onuaku). If they are going to double or triple team him, we are going to get open shots. All of us have been practicing our shooting. When you get a shot, you just have to knock it down,” Hodge said.
Hodge read the defense actively all game long, and moved well without the ball. He also hit two triples, having previously gone 0-for-3 in the team’s first eight games. He added that the entire team is taking advantage of having Onuaku control the paint.
“It’s actually been like that the whole conference. Some games, people are knocking down shots, some games, other people are knocking down shots. Today I made my shots today,” Hodge shared Sunday.
“It’s just me tonight and you have to take what the defense gives you. It’s really easy when you have a center who demands double or triple teams. The shots we were getting are wide open. It’s just easy to translate that to the game.”
Aside from averaging 20.8 PPG and 18.9 RPG, the 6-foot-9, 275-pound Onuaku also leads the Bolts, in assists with 2.7 a game along with Chris Newsome. Not only is Onuaku a good threat at the post, but he also has good court vision, and that often leads to good passes to his other teammates, especially after the defense collapses on him.
In last season’s Commissioner’s Cup, the Bolts also started with a 5-0 record, but struggled towards the end of the elimination round, going 1-5 to finish with just a 6-5 record.
This year, however, is a far more different campaign. Meralco are the league’s top defensive team and are also the squad that allow the lowest field goal percentage. Much of that is down to Onuaku’s presence, which allows Meralco’s forwards to play their natural positions. The Bolts’ wing guys even play the two spots from time to time, giving the team lots of length on the perimeter defensively.
Head coach Norman Black said he always reminds his team to take advantage of what they have right now, especially since import-laden conferences are make or break for teams.
“This is a completely different type of team. You have a different type of import. I haven’t really thought about making them learn lessons from last year. I just try to focus on what’s happening now,” Black said.
“What I am really preaching to them is you will never know when you can put together a talented team. You never know when it is going to happen. You never know when you can get a talented import like Arinze, who also has great attitude. It does not happen everyday so when it does, you have to take advantage of it and try to win as many games as you can.”
At 7-2, Meralco are the league’s top team, and Onuaku’s presence at both ends of the court is setting the team apart from its previous versions. He is leading them in a different direction.