At its best against the consensus team to beat, a Blackwater crew on a tailspin and given little chance on Friday night resuscitated its playoff hopes in a big way in the PBA Philippine Cup.
Making the reigning four-time MVP play like a mere mortal and forcing three-time defending champion San Miguel Beer to fumble during the most crucial stretches, the Elite carved out a 106-96 victory to snap a four-game losing streak and get back in the fight at Cuneta Astrodome in Pasay.
Mike DiGregorio hit three big triples when the game was on the line, and JP Erram outplayed June Mar Fajardo all night as Blackwater won for the first time in almost a month to rise to 3-5 and put promise to a campaign that looked headed to the doldrums just a couple of weeks back.
The win forced a three-way tie for the lead as the Beermen dropped to 6-2, with idle Alaska and Magnolia now having clearer shots at No. 1 and the first twice-to-beat privilege in the first round of the playoffs.
“We got a wake up call with those four losses,” Blackwater coach Leo Isaac said. “We’ve gotten over the hump and hopefully we can get back to our winning ways.”
The Elite can definitely do that, with listless KIA Picanto up for them on Friday.
“With three more games, I think we now have a good chance of making the next round,” said Isaac. “Hopefully, this win motivates us more and the Good Lord blesses us more.”
NLEX booked a second straight win later in the night and also shored up its playoff chances after nipping Meralco, 87-85.
Rookie Kiefer Ravena again delivered in the clutch, repaying his coach’s trust by burying the winning jumper over Chris Newsome with nine-tenths of a second remaining for the final count.
“It means a lot for a player like me when you have a coach and teammates that really trust you,” Ravena said.
Earlier, DiGregorio finished with 26 points after repeatedly finding holes on San Miguel’s vaunted backcourt defense, while Erram had 24 points and 18 rebounds ranged against the 6-foot-10 Fajardo.
Fajardo struggled on the field and finished with 12 points and 13 rebounds in almost 40 minutes. Arwind Santos had 22 points and nine rebounds to lead the Beermen.
Meanwhile, the Hotshots can wrest solo top spot when they clash with Rain or Shine in a Petron Saturday Special contest slated 5 p.m. at Calasiao Sports Complex in Pangasinan.