Meralco tightens hold on No. 2 spot
Meralco continued climbing its way to a protected spot in the playoffs by dumping Blackwater into the cesspool of history.
The Bolts handed the Bossing a 104-97 defeat in the PBA Philippine Cup on Saturday, sending Blackwater to the record books with a 19th straight defeat—the longest in league history.
At least, Blackwater achieved something it had failed to do for most of the tournament: Avoid looking out of place in the pro league. Even Meralco coach Norman Black admitted that the Bossing, playing for pride and little else, spooked the Bolts in the second half.
“Blackwater played much, much better than us in the second half,” Black said. “They rallied back against us and we did not play as well in the second half, but we played well enough to win the game.”
Blackwater entered the match at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga, losing by an average of about 17 points per game. The Bossing looked determined to make this game much more of a fight, before eventually dropping their 11th straight match this season.
Add to that losing their last eight games last season—after which management traded their best, albeit oft-hurt, player in Mac Belo in the offseason—and Blackwater was all alone in the apex of ignominy after breaking the tie it held with the defunct Great Taste/Presto franchise.
On the other hand, the Bolts, already assured of a spot in the playoffs, got its act together in the second frame and held it together down the stretch to move closer to a playoff bonus.
Allein Maliksi had 21 points and 10 rebounds on his 34th birthday, while Raymond Almazan tossed his own double-double of 15 and 17 to help the shorthanded Meralco rise to 7-2 with a pair of games left to play.
The Bossing got decent numbers from its cast, with KG Canaleta and three others scoring 14 or more.
Blackwater’s last victory was against NLEX in Oct. 17 last year, a 98-88 victory where they pulled away in the third period. The Bossing went 2-1 after that victory, surprising pundits, before proceeding to drop all their remaining matches.
They almost pulled this one off against the Bolts, cutting an 11-point lead to just five, 100-95, on a Simon Enciso triple with 1:49 to play.
But Anjo Caram restored an eight-point cushion for Meralco, which was outscored by seven in the final period, allowing the Bolts to hold on to the shaky victory, which, Black said, was a victory nonetheless.
“Even though it wasn’t very pretty in the second half, I’ll take it,” he said.
“At this point of the season that’s all it really matters … you get as many wins as possible,” added Black, whose squad faces dangerous NLEX and defending champion Barangay Ginebra in its last two games.
In another match, TNT made the most out of a unique opportunity, using every bit of its firepower against weary Alaska for a 103-85 victory for a crucial springboard going into playoffs.
“We wanted to try some things in this game that we haven’t been doing, that we haven’t done in the past few games,” said coach Chot Reyes, whose charges finished the elimination round at 10-1 (win-loss).
“In our minds, we just wrapped the first half. We now need to be prepared for a very, very tough second half,” he added as the Tropang Giga now enter a week’s worth of break and enjoy the view from the top as other teams slug it our for positions in the quarterfinal round.
TNT got the goods from Roger Pogoy who finished with 18 points, and Poy Erram who tossed in 17 coming off the bench. Staying sharp
Three more players from the Tropang Giga scored in double digits as Reyes walked a “fine line between keeping them fresh and keeping them sharp” for the next round.
Abu Tratter and Javee Casio finished with 12 and 11 points, respectively, for the Aces, who were coming off a victory over Barangay Ginebra in a triple header Friday night.
Alaska was put through a torturous schedule after being placed under the league’s health protocols. Now 3-5, the Aces immediately move on to battle 3-7 Terrafirma on Sunday night to cap another triple bill.
It remains to be seen who will be TNT’s next assignment in the playoffs, considering the complicated logjam involving the teams in the bottom half, which incidentally includes the Gin Kings.
But that’s the least of Reyes’ worries, as he remains focused on doing one thing and one thing only. At least for now.
“There are some areas we want to shore up,” he said. [B]ut I don’t want to bore you being too technical about it.
“Believe me, there are still areas we focus on our practices—that we feel we should get better if we’re going to be able to compete and beat the big boys.”
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