Bolts gather needed steam for tough closing assignments
Coach Norman Black sounded as a cautious optimist on Wednesday after Meralco continued its turnaround from what was once a gloomy campaign in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup into a promising one.
“It certainly gives us light at the end of the tunnel, that’s for sure,” Black said after guiding the Bolts to a 97-91 win over the TNT Tropang Giga, their third straight since starting the midseason conference with a 1-5 record.
Magnolia defeated San Miguel Beer, 85-80, in a worn-down affair behind Nick Rakocevic’s 26 points and 28 rebounds and back-to-back triples by Paul Lee in the final two minutes.
The Hotshots improved to 8-1 going into their marquee duel with the second-running Bay Area Dragons on Saturday. The Beermen fell to 10th position at 3-5.
Import KJ McDaniels, a worthy replacement to the inconsistent Johnny O’Bryant, and Raymond Almazan keyed the win that has suddenly put Meralco in contention for a spot in the quarterfinals.
But why Black has some reservations despite now being inside the top eight spots by tying TNT at 4-5?
“We still have tough games coming up,” the veteran mentor said as Meralco has Magnolia and San Miguel on tap at the tailend of the month before ending the eliminations against struggling NLEX.
“We still have a tough road to go, but winning this game [against TNT] really helps our chances [of reaching the quarterfinals],” added Black, whose team has been picking up the pieces despite still missing Chris Newsome to a calf injury.
For Meralco to capitalize on that chance, it will need to maintain its strong effort on the defensive end, which Black cited as the main reason why things are on an uphill climb for his squad.
Meralco shook off an early offensive spark by TNT led by the returning Mikey Williams, eventually erasing an 11-point deficit and taking control.
That sent TNT to a third straight defeat and also 4-5 overall, a result that spoiled coach Chot Reyes’ homecoming after steering Gilas Pilipinas to a pair of road wins over Jordan and Saudi Arabia in the Fiba (International Basketball Federation) World Cup Asian Qualifiers.