After a dismal 1-10 outing in the PBA Philippine Cup, the Meralco Bolts are the top team in the on-going Commissioner’s Cup, having racked up their third straight win Wednesday night.
The Bolts took down the Star Hotshots and defending champions Tropang TNT (though they played mostly without Ivan Johnson who was ejected) last week, and faced another difficult challenge in last Commissioner’s Cup’s runner-up Rain or Shine.
The start was not too inspiring, but the slower pace definitely worked in Meralco’s favor, taking away the Elasto Painters’ running game while working methodically and patiently on offense.
Then the Bolts flipped the switch in the second quarter, pouring 42 points to build a commanding 61-36 halftime bubble. It seemed the Bolts were on their way to an impressive win, before Rain or Shine came back in the most Rain-or-Shine way possible.
Showing why they have been one of the best teams in the recent years, the Elasto Painters outscored the Bolts 40-15 in the third period even without Wayne Chism, who sustained was is feared to be a hamstring injury. The Elasto Painters erased a 26-point hole like it was nothing, and showcased better chemistry despite having to go all-Filipino.
But the Bolts just wouldn’t back down in the character test, and pulled off a 98-95 victory to move to the top of the team standings.
There were ugly moments and danger always presented itself, but Bolts head coach Norman Black said he’ll take the win.
“A win is a win, and I will take it. At the end of the day, four teams are going to be eliminated and I don’t want to be part of those teams. I told them it is a good opportunity for us to go 3-0. It’s very important for us to get ahead,” Black said.
With three wins in the bag, Meralco are slowly shaping up to be one of the darkhorse contenders people have expected them to be. A disappointing conference removed, chemistry has been better for the team, and the long break certainly helped.
“The chemistry is great. For us, we did a lot of scrimmages in the offseason because we had a new team coming in. So chemistry with the locals (this time) is really good. With Arinze (Onuaku) being a natural center for us, he fills a big gap for us,” Cliff Hodge said.
Onuaku put on a hulking performance as he finished with 31 points on 11-for-18 shooting and 27 rebounds. Three games into the conference, the Bolts are the best defensive team, holding opponents down to just 92.7 points per 100 possessions. The worst-rebounding team in the last Philippine Cup, Meralco are now out-rebounding their foes by an average of eight boards per game in the current conference.
And it will only get better for the Bolts, as Black tries to push Onuaku to reach ideal form for PBA imports expected of carrying a big load each night.
“That was a dominating performance for him but I think he agrees with me we have to get him in better shape. We have to do a better job in the next weeks to get him in PBA shape. What I mean by that is imports (here) are expected to play 40 to 48 minutes night. We will just increase his stamina so he would be more explosive in the game. At the same time, he is exactly what we need as an import,” Black shared.
Three games into the conference, Meralco are again showing promise — the same way they did when they opened last season’s Commissioner’s Cup with a 5-0 slate. There are of course more powerhouse teams in the mix, but the road to get to a better, more competitive form is definitely off to a rousing start.
“He wanted us to come out and try to get this win. It is hard to get wins in this league now. Everyone is really good this conference,” Hodge said. “We are more relaxed and confident. On top of that, when you win games that are close, it is a good team-builder.”
“Eventually we will get to closing games the right way. But right now we are just trying to win. We were 1-10 last conference, we are trying to win games. We are not trying to win them in a certain way or beautifully because we were coming off a horrible conference. Any win for us is a confidence-booster,” Black added.
Meralco are on the rise, and are again putting their name in the conversation.