Bowles delivers as Hotshots rise, Bolts slide
MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Denzel Bowles pulled his right arm back, pretended to load it like a deadly shotgun, and then saluted to the thousands of voracious Purefoods fans in attendance at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
His shooting arm, which was as deadly as a Remington 870 firearm all-night long on Friday, March 20, had just delivered his team to victory.
Bowles finished with 37 points, 21 rebounds, 3 blocks, and converted the final nail in the coffin for the Star Hotshots with 35 seconds left in their 96-85 win over the Meralco Bolts that improved their record to 8-3 in the 2015 PBA Commissioner’s Cup.
The Hotshots, winners of four straight, now wait for the postseason where they will have a great chance of holding one of the top two seeds - depending on how the rest of their rivals do - and a twice-to-beat advantage.
“We’ve won four in a row now, so we’re obviously doing something right,” Purefoods head coach Tim Cone said after the game.
James Yap and PJ Simon each finished with 15 points and combined to go an effective 15-of-24 from the field. As a team, Purefoods shot 56% from the floor against Meralco, who was also outrebounded 53-35.
“We were fortunate that [Cliff] Hodge (ankle) didn’t play tonight - he’s always a big impact player. We were fortunate he didn’t play tonight,” said Cone.
With Hodge out, Meralco head coach Norman Black needed extra help from the rest of his locals to aid their import Josh Davis, who finished with 31 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 steals. Unfortunately for the Bolts, only Gary David answered the call with 27 points, albeit on 11-of-29 shooting.
Jared Dillinger put up 10 points and 8 rebounds.
The star of the evening was Bowles, who missed only 9 of his 25 shot attempts and was feasting on Davis’ defense all evening.
“Denzel got into a rhythm very, very early in the game - a nice, beautiful shooting rhythm,” said Cone, who also mentioned that having a twice-to-beat seed, though now very possible, was not the team’s goal to begin the conference.
“We’re very happy with a best of three,” he said, referring to the kind of series that will be played by the 3-6 seeds. “That was our immediate goal. Anything beyond that is a bonus.”
A three-pointer by Mark Barroca midway through the fourth extended the conference's defending champions' lead to 91-79, but five quick points from Davis - on an and-one play and fastbreak score - gave Meralco a puncher’s chance at a comeback.
The Bolts’ defense tightened up over the next few possessions to stay in the game, but missed jumpers from Mike Cortez, Reynel Hugnatan, and David, a number of which were wide-open, kept Purefoods ahead by two possessions.
With under 40 seconds left, Bowles had to hoist up a tough jumper a little under the 3-point line late in the shot clock, but converted it anyway to provide the finishing dagger for the game.
“We gotta improve on that. We get a little bit too Denzel-dependent,” said Cone. “He needs to be the bonus and our bread and butter needs to be our execution.”
“Guys are going to have to step up and really rely more on their execution and that’s something we’ll work on in practice,” he later added
The Bolts, who are 1-4 in their last five games after starting the conference 5-0, have a remaining match against the Blackwater Elite on Wednesday, March 25.
The defeat dropped them to fifth in the standings right behind the 6-4 NLEX Road Warriors, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker against Meralco.
PUREFOODS (96) - Bowles 37, Simon 15, Yap 15, Mallari 7, Barroca 7, Maliksi 5, Reavis 4, Pingris 4, Devance 2, Taha 0, Melton 0,
MERALCO (85) - Davis 31, David 27, Dillinger 10, Anthony 7, Cortez 4, Hugnatan 4, Macapagal 2, Reyes 0, Wilson 0, Ildefonso 0, Caram 0, Ferriols 0.
Quarters: 29-21, 50-45, 78-67, 96-85