Just another game as Meralco pushes Ginebra to the brink
After surveying his team’s last two games and then looking at all PBA Philippine Cup playoff possibilities, coach Norman Black set Meralco out to accomplish two tasks: Grab twice-to-beat protection in the first round and create some momentum heading into the more crucial phase of the tournament.
The Bolts achieved both in two games played less than 24 hours apart.
What wasn’t part of their goal? Getting some measure of payback against a squad that caused them a lot of hurt in the past, including last year, when they were knocked out of the semifinals by a dagger triple in the series decider.
“We just wanted to win the game,” said Black after Thursday’s 79-66 victory over many-time tormentor Barangay Ginebra at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor town, Pampanga.
“I know we played them a lot over the years, but it’s a game that just happened to be at the end of the conference,” he said after closing out with a 9-2 slate and going into the playoffs starting this weekend with some kind of roll—Meralco has won its last four games in the tournament.
“We wanted to get into the playoffs with a momentum, not get into the playoff with a loss. It just so happened that Ginebra was our opponent [today],” Black added.
Besides, if it were revenge the Bolts wanted, they would have plotted something colder—like knocking the crown off Ginebra’s head.
But all Meralco did was tighten the noose on the necks of the defending champions.
And Robert Bolick loosened the knot a little bit.
Bolick threw the Kings a lifeline after assembling a mean triple-double of 22 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists to lead NorthPort to a 122-94 trashing of Alaska, a victory the Batang Pier needed a lot less than Ginebra did.
Bolick’s performance slammed the door on the Aces and opened a window of opportunity for the Gin Kings, who now can clinch the No. 8 seed in the playoffs via a knockout battle against Phoenix. Both teams own the better quotients among a three-team logjam with Terrafirma at four wins and seven losses.
NorthPort, meanwhile, was already safe into the playoffs and all the victory did was set the Batang Pier up for a duel against powerhouse San Miguel Beer.
“We’re ready for the strong San Miguel team,” NorthPort coach Pido Jarencio said after the game. “The players are ready, we are healthy going to the playoffs, and their mindset is ready.”
“We all know that San Miguel’s about winning tradition,” said Bolick. “But we won’t back down. We just have to be healthy, give all that we can and live with the results.”
NorthPort also got a strong performance from rookie Jamie Malonzo, who finished with 21 points, six rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
Meralco showed it was ready for the grind-out portion of the tournament when it broke away from a tight match at the start of the fourth quarter to erect a 71-58 lead.
“Our offense has been pretty good the last three games. It was nice to see that our defense stepped up and played much better tonight in this particular game, because we’re going to need that down the stretch,” Black said.
The Bolts will face sister team NLEX Road Warriors in the first round of the playoffs and need to win only once to advance to the semifinals.
“We just had a tough game against NLEX … That’s not going to be easy,” Black said. “That was one of the reasons why we really wanted to battle for the twice-to-beat advantage; but of course we’ll go into that series wanting to win the first game.”
Mac Belo and Alvin Pasaol each had 15 points and seven rebounds as Meralco stretched the fourth-quarter gap to 79-63.
Stanley Pringle led Ginebra with 19 points, while Christian Standhardinger added a double-double of 17 and 14 rebounds.
A victory by Ginebra in the knockout match with Phoenix will push the Kings straight into quarterfinal showdown with elimination round topnotcher TNT and its twice-to-beat shield.
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