Bolts still underdogs despite tying series with Tropang Giga – Black
Meralco handed TNT a rare loss that evened their PBA Governors’ Cup semifinal series at 1-1 in Antipolo City on Sunday.
But Bolts coach Norman Black, following a 124-117 overtime win gutted out from sheer will at Ynares Center, still considers the Tropang Giga the favorites despite seeing a performance that could definitely give the Bolts more belief that they could take down the league’s top team.
“We’re playing the No. 1 seed team, so every game is gonna be tough for us,” Black said. “It’s just their second loss this entire conference and nothing’s gonna be easy. If you look at their lineup, they’re loaded so every game’s gonna be competitive.”
It took the hot shooting from Aaron Black, a determined, banged-up Cliff Hodge, and import KJ McDaniels answering Black’s challenge, among others, for Meralco to turn the series into a best-of-three.
That, despite TNT rallying from a double-digit deficit in the second half and falling just one free throw short of taking a commanding 2-0 lead.
The winner of this series will go on to advance against the survivor of the San Miguel Beer-Barangay Ginebra series, Game 2 of which was being played at press time.
The Beermen will play the rest of the conference without June Mar Fajardo, their cornerstone who has been ruled out with an MCL injury.
Ginebra won Game 1 also last Friday as Christian Standhardinger had a heyday underneath with the 6-foot-11 Fajardo absent.
“Even if we had a slight lead of eight to 10 points, they can easily erase that because they are probably the best three-point shooting team in the league,” said Black.
Mikey Williams and RR Pogoy had stretches where they were able to knock down shots from beyond the arc, although the unforgiving Meralco defense held Williams scoreless in the payoff frame.
Also dooming TNT in extension was its sudden inability to hit the triple, much to the relief of the Meralco coach.
“Fortunately for us, their last three or four three-point shots did not go in. And that really helped us win the game,” said Black.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the TNT import who accounted for much of the damage inflicted on Meralco in Game 1, also missed crucial charities in the fourth, including one of three that led to a 112-all tie after regulation.
He got a trip to the line after drawing a foul with six seconds left against a challenging Chris Newsome and Hodge, who would shake off the whiplash to deliver in overtime.
Hodge produced Meralco’s first four points in the extra period, made an effort to defend Hollis-Jefferson and got some defensive rebounds that prompted Black to unintentionally give him a nickname.
“He’s a bionic man,” said Black in jest, adding that the team will have Hodge’s head checked after the hard nosed forward took a bad fall in that play that showed the back of his head banging hard on the floor.
Hodge’s dogged determination in that play highlighted how hard the Bolts fought to square this series
The younger Black finished the job by scoring six on his way to tying his career-high with 28 points, as he and Hodge backed up McDaniels’ all-around effort of 39 points, 20 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocks after his Game 1 struggles.