Meralco pulled off another great escape last night, and this one was again through the brilliance of one man.
Chris Ross came up with two crucial steals and made the marginal free throws inside the final 11.9 seconds that lifted the Bolts to an 89-88 squeaker over Air21 for their first winning streak in the PBA Philippine Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts actually survived the loss of an 18-point lead in the third quarter and a one-man wrecking crew named Michael Dunigan in the fourth, needing to come back from three points down in the final two minutes before improving to 3-3.
It was the fifth straight loss for the Express, who literally gave the game away with several ill-advised plays in the waning seconds.
Dunigan, who scored 30 of his 40 points in the second half and brought the Express on the verge of winning, also became the goat when he fired a telegraphed pass that Ross intercepted.
That led to two free throws by Ross off a Mark Isip foul with 11.9 to go that turned out to be the final score.
Left without a timeout, Mike Cortez couldn’t totally handle the inbounds pass and lost control to a harassing Ross. The Bolts then ran out the clock and sent the Express into a tie at the bottom with idle Barangay Ginebra.
The win was a fitting followup to Meralco’s 90-89 decision of Globalport last week when Sunday Salvacion—in his first game of the tournament—knocked in six three-pointers capped by the marginal triple at the buzzer.
Salvacion again had six against the Express, all inside the first three periods.
“All our games will be like this. But for as long as we end up winning, I wouldn’t mind it,” Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio said.
Eric Dawson was thoroughly outplayed by Dunigan in the second half and though he had a short stab that put the Bolts within 87-88, he also missed a wide open layup.
Dawson finished with 35 points and 17 rebounds to pace the Bolts.
Dunigan also had 16 rebounds, two assists and two blocks but his performance was marred by a team-high six turnovers.
MERALCO 89—Dawson 35, Salvacion 18, Cardona 11, Hugnatan 8, Ross 6, Hodge 4, Buenafe 3, Manuel 2, Reyes 2, Artadi 0.
AIR21 88—Dunigan 40, Isip 13, Canaleta 7, Custodio 6, Omolon 6, Ritualo 5, Cortez 4, Arboleda 3, Sena 2, Menor 2, Atkins 0, Wilson 0, Baclao 0.
Quarters: 26-19, 49-35, 74-64, 89-88