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THE LONG, HARD ROUTE

Meralco takes last Final Four slot

/ 05:10 AM October 02, 2021

Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge put on a vengeful showing to power Meralco past NLEX, 97-86, in the rubber match of their quarterfinal series on Friday night which completed the Philippine Cup’s semifinal cast.

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Shackled to no more than seven points each in Game 1, the Bolts’ top guns hit crucial baskets in the second frame as the No. 2 seeds coasted to victory at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga and sealed a Final Four clash with third-ranked Magnolia.

Meralco, which was also in the semifinals last season in the bubble before being bundled out by eventual champion Barangay Ginebra, was the only team that played the full route in this round, taken to a KO match by the shorthanded Road Warriors, who carved out an 81-80 win on Wednesday courtesy of a game-winning layup by rookie Calvin Oftana.

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TNT, the No. 1 seed, needed just one game to dispose of the Gin Kings and cut their reign, while San Miguel Beer and Magnolia swept their respective best-of-three foes to advance.

“Making the semis is no longer the goal. Now, the goal is to get to the Finals of the All-Filipino,” said coach Norman Black.

Newsome went on to finish with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, while Hodge had 16 points and nine boards as Meralco now set its sights on a new hurdle: handling a Hotshots crew that is clicking on all cylinders led by Best Player of the Conference front-runner Calvin Abueva.

Don Trollano started out at one of the guard spots and led the Road Warriors with 19 points, with Oftana shooting 14 that went with 11 rebounds.

“Certainly, if we could’ve finished it a couple of days ago, we would have loved to have done that—save ourselves one game and get a little bit more practice time,” Black said.

“But as far as going forward, I’m just happy that our guys are back out of protocol again, because that can really damage your team losing guys for weeks,” he added.

Anjo Caram and the veteran Reynel Hugnatan were the others in twin digits for Black, with Caram accounting for 16 points and Hugnatan coming off the bench to score 11.

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It’s been a while

Abueva is leading the tightly-contested race for the Best Player award alright, but snagging the accolade is the farthest thing from the do-it-all forward’s mind—even if it validates his status as one of the league’s finest all-around players.

And understandably so, as Magnolia remains in the hunt for this year’s all-Filipino title.

“As I’ve told coach (Chito Victolero), that would just be a bonus if I ever get to win that,” Abueva said in Filipino Thursday night, shortly after powering the Hotshots past Rain or Shine with an eye-popping 20 points and 19 rebounds in a 96-86 Game 2 win.

“My mindset has been on getting to the Finals,” he went on. “And win [the title] as that’s what the whole team wants. For the coaching staff, the players, the utility personnel, it’s really the championship. That’s where the biggest bonus is, and that’s our biggest goal for this coming Christmas and New Year.”

Acquired by Magnolia just before the season, Abueva, once the league’s problem child, is turning out to be quite the pick up. His averages of 16.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 1.0 steals and 1.3 blocks speak about his fit to a team loaded with stars and role players.

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