Meralco now within win of becoming the team that ends a dynasty
It wasn’t the best basketball Norman Black hoped Meralco would flaunt against a team that has won the PBA Philippine Cup the last five seasons.
But it was good enough to give the Bolts another playdate, so they have no complaints.
Meralco hacked out a 78-71 victory on Friday night at Angeles University Foundation powered by Smart 5G, forcing defending champion San Miguel Beer to fish out its twice-to-beat card and schedule a you-or-me duel for a semifinal seat on Sunday.
“Our guys played with a lot of heart tonight, they really played hard. We shot the ball poorly, but at the same time our defense held up,” Black said in the postgame presser.
Veteran Reynel Hugnatan and rookie Aaron Black delivered inside the final three minutes of the contest, arresting Meralco’s dry spell and then restoring a cushion enough to blunt the Beermen’s tries at a fightback.
Hugnatan, the oldest player in the Bolts’ roster, finished with 16 points and seven rebounds. Aaron, Black’s rookie son, tossed in 14.
“We really needed this win to put a little bit of pressure on San Miguel and send us into [a knockout match],” Black said, who recorgnized the gallant stand the Beermen put up despite losing yet another key cog to injury. Already without six-time MVP June Mar Fajardo and hotshot scorer Terrence Romeo, the Beermen suited up without ace playmaker Alex Cabagnot.
“One thing you have to respect with San Miguel is that they’ve been so great for so long. They’re very experienced. They are missing some key players right now, but they still have key players out there on the court. You can’t really let your guard down when you’re playing them, even if they have a few injuries,” Black said.
The Beermen got the goods from Mo Tautuaa, who tallied 14 points. Marcio Lassiter added 12 points while Chris Ross chipped in 10 points, six rebounds and seven assists.
Meralco’s lead dropped to four in the fourth as Paul Zamar buried a floater to keep San Miguel within reach, but Hugnatan drained a basket and Aaron nailed a clutch trey as the Bolts pulled away, 76-67, under two minutes remaining.
“[The Beermen] gave us a scare there in the fourth quarter [and] we have to look at that and review it,” Aaron said. “But we’re just happy to come out with a win. It is a confidence booster for us.”
The Bolts are now within a win of becoming the first squad to end San Miguel’s all-Filipino that started in 2015.
And they weren’t even shooting as well as Black had hoped.
Meralco shot just 34 percent from the floor (30 of 87), making defense a key factor for the do-or-die showdown.
“I’ve noticed so far that as we get further into this series here in the PBA, the shooting percentages of the teams are starting to go down a bit,” Black said.
“Maybe because of playing every other day, playing every day. So, you know, you’re just gonna have to really focus on your defense if you want to win,” he added.
Later in the night, Stanley Pringle hit two straight baskets and Barangay Ginebra went on a late run for an 81-73 victory over Rain or Shine that pushed the Kings to the semifinals.
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