Meralco avoided a humiliating collapse from taking place as it survived NLEX, 104-101, to clinch the no. 2 seed in the 2021 Honda PBA Philippine Cup, Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Meralco avoided a collapse from taking place as it survived NLEX, 104-101, to clinch the no. 2 seed in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup, Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Raymond Almazan split his free throws with 1.6 seconds left, and Bong Quinto prevented the opposition from collecting the rebound as the Bolts heaved a sigh of relief after seeing their 20-point third quarter lead become just two.
It marked the first time in franchise history that the MVP Group-owned ball club had finished at second in the all-Filipino conference.
“We’re happy to get that twice-to-beat. It’s the first time in the history of the Meralco franchise that we’ve been able to do it,” said a delighted head coach Norman Black, who has been calling the shots for the team since 2014.
Allein Maliksi led Meralco with 22 points on a 57-percent clip from the field. Rookie Alvin Pasaol produced a conference-high 17 points, while Mac Belo collected 16 points, seven rebounds, and five assists.
Almazan finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds with three blocks, as Quinto made 10 markers, eight dimes, seven boards, and two steals. Anjo Caram had another double-digit outing as he also had 10.
The aforementioned played a key role in the Bolts’ third quarter surge, which saw them build an 85-65 lead with 3:04 on the clock.
But what appeared to be a smooth-sailing ride to the win suddenly became turbulent when the Road Warriors charged back behind Calvin Oftana.
As JR Quinahan sank his free throws to trim the gap to just nine with 1:57 left, the rookie out of San Beda took it from there, nailing three straight triples to make it a two-point game, 101-103, with 2.4 ticks remaining.
Time, however, was not on their side. Almazan made the first of his free throws, though he missed the second. But NLEX was not able to capitalize as Quinto knocked the ball away as time expired.
“The guys came out and played their hearts out, particularly in the first, I would say, 40 minutes of the game. The last eight minutes maybe weren’t very pretty. But at this point of the season, every win counts,” Black said.
The win served as a fitting welcome to Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge, and Raymar Jose, who have all returned after clearing health and safety protocols.
Newsome, however, was not able to enjoy his first game back. He was ejected early in the fourth quarter for incurring a flagrant four penalty two for throwing the ball to Anthony Semerad following a heated exchange.
“I’m hoping as we go forward, they’ll be able to get back to their regular games and their regular minutes,” said Black of his comebacking wards. “But tonight, it was more about the guys who have been here.”
The Bolts improved to 7-3 and now have their sights set on heading into the next round with momentum by facing rivals Ginebra tomorrow at 2:00 p.m.
“All I can tell you is that we’ll be there to win the basketball game. Even if we’ve already qualified for the twice-to-beat, we’ll be there to beat Ginebra tomorrow,” said the Grand Slam-winning mentor.
Meanwhile, Otana powered NLEX with a career-high 34 points that saw him bury eight three-pointers, which is now an all-time record for a rookie according to league stats chief Fidel Mangonon III.
The previous record was held by the legendary Allan Caidic, who made seven triples for Great Taste in Game Two of the Open Conference Finals on June 16, 1987 in a 135-134 overtime loss to Tanduay.
The Road Warriors finished the eliminations at 5-6, and might end up as the seventh seed that would set them up for a collision course with Meralco.
Meralco 104 – Maliksi 22, Pasaol 17, Belo 16, Almazan 13, Quinto 10, Caram 10, Pinto 8, Jackson 2, Hodge 2, Baclao 2, Jamito 2, Newsome 0.
NLEX 101 – Oftana 34, Soyud 14, Quinahan 13, Trollano 9, Ighalo 8, McAloney 7, Paniamogan 6, Cruz 3, Semerad 3, Miranda 2, Alas 2.
Quarterscores: 30-20, 65-54, 89-74, 104-101.