Meralco comes from behind to nip Air21
MANILA, Philippines - "I've got to do a better job, we've got to do a better job as a team. And that's just the bottom line of it."
Those were the words Meralco Bolts import Brian Butch spoke after they were defeated by Talk 'N Text on Friday, March 21. And that's exactly what they did two days later on Sunday afternoon when they completed a 20-point comeback to escape the Air21 Express, 109-98, in the 2014 PBA Commissioner's Cup.
"For tonight's game it was really a test of will for us," said Meralco head coach Ryan Gregorio. "We were down by a big margin, did not put our heads down, found ways to extricate from a deep hole and we were rewarded with a victory."
The Bolts clawed back from what everyone thought was a 20-point 86-66 grave dug by the Express with 1:08 left in the third canto on a Jonas Villanueva coast to coast basket.
But Meralco exploded with a burst of power and aggression come the fourth period, where they came in down 68-86, and went on a searing 29-12 run to complete their fightback and take the lead for the first time in a long while, 99-98, on a Jared Dillinger spin move to the basket with 2:27 on the clock.
It was a matter of composure and execution from there for Meralco, with Dillinger inflicting more damage with his fadeaway jumpers and drives, and Butch staying steady from the stripe to ink the final tally.
Dillinger tallied 20 points when the smoke cleared to go with 8 assists.
"It's been a while since Jared Dillinger played that way," remarked Gregorio.
Butch, on the other hand, put up monster numbers with 40 points and 31 rebounds along with 3 assists, a steal and a block.
"I said to them (Meralco), we weren't gonna lose," said Butch after the game. "We all believed in each other, we all wanted it for each other and we played together as a team."
All throughout the payoff period Air21 was simply shaken and tearing up at the seams in the face of Butch's 21 fourth quarter points on 4 three-pointers and Dillinger's 13 markers in that quarter. But the Bolts also had plenty of help from an energetic and aggressive John Wilson, who just flew high above everybody for the all-important boards that translated to valuable possessions.
It was a pair of consecutive treys from Butch and Dillinger midway in the fourth that truly swung the momentum to the side of Meralco for good as they came to within 5, 91-96. Those 6 points were a direct product of precise ball movement for Meralco.
Wilson then came alive and did not give up on a play as he drove to the hoop, missed, then grabbed his own offensive rebound for the stick-back to make it a 3-point affair, 93-96.
Wilson finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. It's that kind of effort shown by Wilson on rebounding that allowed Meralco 25 second-chance points as opposed to a far 6 by Air21.
"It was simply an amazing comeback and this game I'll pretty much cherish. As a basketball coach I have never seen anything like it," Gregorio said.
The only way Meralco was able to succeed with their comeback was due to their defense, which they executed to a T in that storied final frame as they limited the Express to only 12 points.
More importantly, they tightened the cap on Air21's new import Wesley Witherspoon, who only scored 5 points in the last period. It was a stark contrast to Butch's fourth quarter output.
Before that, however, the game was all Air21 as Witherspoon dropped 39 points for the first 3 quarters. The 24-year old Atlanta, Georgia native went beast mode on his debut for the Express with a total of 44 markers on 8-of-13 triples to go with 9 rebounds and a steal.
Meralco, now sitting at the middle of the standings at 3-2, got off to a good start but dipped in the second frame with only a 17-point output compared to a daunting 35 markers by Air21 built on the 18 points of Witherspoon in that frame.
Mark Cardona also came out firing with 22 points while Asi Taulava added 11 markers and 9 boards for Air21, who now sport a 2-3 win-loss card.
Meralco 109: Butch 40, Dillinger 20, Wilson 12, David 11, Hodge 9, Caram 6, Mandani 4, Hugnatan 3, Guevarra 2, Artadi 2, Ildefonso 0, Al-Hussaini 0.
Air21 98: Witherspoon 44, Cardona 22, Taulava 11, Yeo 7, Borboran 4, Villanueva 4, Camson 4, Atkins 2, Poligrates 0, Ramos 0, Burtscher 0.
Quarter scores: 25-18, 42-53, 68-86, 109-98. - Rappler.com