Bolts hold fort to be a win shy of returning to Govs’ Cup Finals; Road Warriors live another day
Making good on his promise to play even better, Tony Bishop Jr. was relentless on both ends on Sunday, leading Meralco to a 101-95 victory over Magnolia that put the Bolts within a win of returning to the PBA Governors’ Cup Finals.
Bishop turned in 27 points and had 10 rebounds while coming through defensively in another tight endgame to help Meralco seize control of the best-of-five series, 2-1, before a big crowd at Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay.
“At this point in the season, it’s going to go one way or the other,” said head coach Norman Black. “I mean, you’re either going to get a couple of wins and go to the finals—or you’re gonna get eliminated.”
In the nightcap, NLEX avoided elimination after carving out an 86-85 win over defending champion Barangay Ginebra.
Cameron Clark completed the marginal three-point play for the Road Warriors with seven seconds remaining that broke an 83-all tie.
“This [game] is like the turning point for both teams, and we just thought this was going to be a very pivotal game for us—that if we could win the game, it’ll give us a much better chance at making it to the championship,” Black said.
Chris Banchero finished with 23 points—his finest offensive effort since joining Meralco early in February, with five of those coming in the payoff period where he joined hands with Bishop and skipper Chris Newsome to forge a 95-85 edge with 4:33 left.
Jio Jalalon then hit a tough triple and then converted from the charity stripe to make things interesting for Magnolia going into the final minute. But a crafty Newsome layup and a Bishop steal snuffed the top-seeds’ chances.
Meralco will have a chance to shut the door on the Hotshots, the runners-up in the last Philippine Cup, when the series resumes on Wednesday at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Ginebra gets its second crack at a seat in the best-of-seven title series also on Wednesday.
But Black believes there’s much to be desired from his charges’ performance.
“We got off to a pretty decent start, but we stumbled a little bit in the first half, and they ended up with a lead,” he said.
“I’m happy we won, but I don’t think we played great tonight. I thought there were times we didn’t execute well. Our defense was decent, but It wasn’t as good as it was last game,” he went on.
“We’ll have to go back and look at the tape, see what we did good and see what we did bad.”
Import Mike Harris led the way for Magnolia with 24 points and 17 rebounds. Mark Barroca and Ian Sangalang added 15 and 14, respectively, but were shut down in the payoff period.
Jalalon finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and a pair of steals in an outing that Magnolia hoped would make up for Paul Lee’s forgettable performance. Lee played with a bum ankle.
“I’ve been battling [through] sprained ankle, I don’t wanna make that an excuse but it keeps bothering me,” said Lee who only had five Game 3 points.
“The coaches reminded us to keep on grinding. We have two days of preparation for Game 4. We still have a chance.” INQ