Meralco marches into semis with come-from-behind win over NLEX
MANILA, Philippines – The Meralco Bolts came back from 20 points down to edge the NLEX Road Warriors in overtime, 91-85, and finish off the best-of-3 quarterfinals in two games in the 2015 PBA Commissioner's Cup on Sunday, March 29 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
This is the first semifinals appearance for Meralco since the 2013 Governors' Cup, per PBA Head Statistician Fidel Mangonon III.
“It feels good to win something for Meralco,” said head coach Norman Black, who is spending just his second conference with the team after moving from Talk ’N Text last year.
Gary David torched NLEX with 31 points, including 5-of-12 makes from beyond the arc, while import Josh Davis posted 25 points, 22 rebounds and two blocks. Reynel Hugnatan finished with 17 points after scoring just 5 in the first half.
The Bolts, who had a sloppy opening half and were down by double figures early, closed the game on a 7-0 run to complete their comeback from a 66-44 deficit midway in the third frame.
Hugnatan and David sparked the run midway in overtime with 4 straight points, including a breakaway lay-up off a turnover, to create an 88-85 cushion over NLEX. Cliff Hodge, who wound up with 6 points, 7 boards and 5 dimes, came through on a jumper inside the last minute, 90-85, while Davis split his free throws to notch the final tally.
“We made some adjustments (at halftime), they worked out for us in the second half but I thought it was just a gutsy performance from my guys,” said Black, a coach revered for his brilliance at halftime adjustments. "And it’s nice to be in the semis, guys."
Hugnatan and David also forced overtime with a basket and a similar breakaway lay-up entering the final two minutes of regulation. Neither team scored as Meralco’s defense clamped down from then on and Al Thornton failed to convert a potential game-winner as time expired.
"Our defense really picked up in the second half,” Black said.
Thornton finished with 32 points and 11 rebounds but was silenced to just 2 points for the entire fourth period and overtime. Pamboy Raymundo and Jonas Villanueva had 12 points apiece while Asi Taulava was quiet with just 10 points and 7 boards.
The Bolts won the rebounding department, 57-42, despite the Road Warriors’ towering duo of Taulava and Thornton. Meralco also forced NLEX to 20 miscues while keeping theirs to just 10.
“We said at the beginning of the year we just wanted to progress, which is just to get better as the year went on,” Black said.
"We thought we made a big jump in our improvement last year. I think we have continued to get better this conference. The next step is to see what we can do against Rain or Shine."
Meralco will face a deep Rain or Shine team in a best-of-5 series starting Tuesday. Black is particularly concerned about the Painters’ depth, considering the Bolts lost Jared Dillinger to a knee injury in game 1 of the quarterfinals.
This means, Black said, that Meralco will have to put in double the effort to match Rain or Shine.
“It’s gonna be a tough series. We know how strong Rain or Shine is, they finished number 1 at the end of the eliminations so it’s gonna be tough for us.” – Rappler.com