Rise of the Bolts
From way down, in the depths of the No. 7 seed, Meralco completed its rise to reach the PBA Governors’ Cup semifinals.
The Bolts scored the first eight points of overtime and then weathered a strong Phoenix fight-back to forge a pulsating 108-103 quarterfinal victory Friday night at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts burned through the Fuel Masters’ twice-to-beat edge to set a date with Alaska in their half of the semifinal bracket. The two teams kick off their duel on Sunday.
“What a hill we had to climb to get to this point,” said coach Norman Black. “There was really not much room for error.”
Allen Durham, twice recognized as best import but also twice denied of championships by Barangay Ginebra in the last two editions of this conference, refused to let go of the chance to get back at his tormentors. He registered a game-high 32 points to go with 21 rebounds.
Baser Amer figured in the Meralco’s blistering start in overtime, draining back-to-back triples that generated separation from Phoenix, 102-94.
But Matthew Wright and Calvin Abueva combined for a last-ditch effort to snare what could’ve been a franchise milestone for the Fuel Masters: A semifinal berth.
The duo had Phoenix within four, 104-100, but Durham had other plans. After anchoring the Bolts’ defense, he went on to drill the two freebies that sealed the deal for Meralco.
“A lot of this turnaround was built on the production of Allen, who was really really strong for us,” Black said.
The Bolts won their sixth straight game—all of them do-or-die—after a 1-6 start. And Black credited the Bolts’ resurgence to a renewed commitment to defense.
“Guys started to buy in again and all of a sudden we started defending well,” explained Black.
Meanwhile, coach Tim Cone has Barangay Ginebra’s well-oiled machine humming so well, it would be a shame if they’re unable to ride the momentum all the way to the crown.
“We’re playing well and we hope we could sustain it,” the grizzled tactician said last Tuesday shortly after steering the defending conference champions Gin Kings to the semifinals.
And in their path is a very familiar foe.
“We got Magnolia next. It’s always an incredible series. It’s game by game just incredible,” Cone said.
The Gin Kings and the Hotshots, the protagonists of a modern-day rivalry that has its own moniker, “Manila Clasico,” figure in a best-of-five semifinal series that tips off Saturday, 6:30 p.m. at Ynares Center in Antipolo.
“It’s nice to be back in the semifinals,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero. “We missed the semifinals last conference.”
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