Meralco turns back San Miguel, squares best-of-seven series
Putting behind the disappointment of being handed a brutal beating the last time and with its coach back after mourning the loss of a loved one, Meralco’s brand of play was on full display on Friday.
The Bolts got their legs back and recovered from a 24-point defeat in Game 1 with a 99-88 win over the San Miguel Beermen, squaring their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series at a game apiece.
Five players scored in double figures to highlight a performance that came after Meralco lacked the energy following a hard-fought quarterfinal series win over crowd favorite Barangay Ginebra.
“Napahiya kami last game (We felt embarrassed the last game). It was not the way Meralco plays,” said Aaron Black, who redeemed himself with seven of his 15 points in the fourth quarter that stalled the Beermen’s rally from 17 down.
Quarterfinal hero Chris Newsome was also huge, posting 14 points, nine rebounds and five assists, as did Cliff Hodge, who had 17 points, 14 rebounds and his usual gung-ho play on both ends, and Allein Maliksi (15 points).
But the biggest surprise was reserve big man Raymar “Toto” Jose, who made 10 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter including a three-point play off a June Mar Fajardo foul with 5:26 left that brought the Bolts up, 88-79.
Jose’s effort epitomized the game plan Norman Black wanted.
“If we can be unpredictable on how we score, it would be difficult for us to be stopped,” said the Bolts coach, who returned on the eve of Game 2 after spending almost a month in the United States to tend to her ailing mother, who later passed away.
Black left with the Bolts reeling on a 3-3 record midway into the eliminations and temporarily handed the baton to assistant Luigi Trillo, who steered the team to a huge turnaround that led to where they are now.
“I actually witnessed my mother pass while I was at home, so it was a pretty disappointing experience for me,” recalled Black, who paused a bit but was able to compose himself quickly.
“But at the same time, the team stuck together. The players played together, the coaches worked together trying to come out with game plans to put us in a situation where we still have a chance to move forward,” added Black, who kept following Meralco games in the wee hours of the morning while in the United States.
San Miguel fell short of making it two in a row over Meralco, even taking the lead in the second half after a 37-20 deficit in the second and being behind 70-62 in the third behind Fajardo, CJ Perez, Marcio Lassiter and Jericho Cruz.
Fajardo had to work for his numbers—22 points and 17 rebounds—against a tough Meralco defense that included Hodge, Jose and Raymond Almazan.