Cliff Hodge electrified Meralco back to the semifinals of the PBA Philippine Cup with a key first-half performance in their 97-86 win over NLEX at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga on Friday, October 1.
Hodge chalked up 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks as the No. 2 seed Bolts finally got the job done against the No. 7 seed Road Warriors after wasting their win-once bonus in a sorry 80-81 loss in their quarterfinal opener.
Breaching the double-digit plateau only once this conference, Hodge torched NLEX with 10 points on 5-of-5 shooting in the second quarter alone to help Meralco build a 46-35 halftime lead.
Chris Newsome and Anjo Caram then picked up where Hodge left off in the third period, knocking down timely buckets as the Bolts stretched their lead to as many as 18 points.
NLEX cut its deficit to 7 points midway through the final salvo, 75-82, but Newsome and Caram restored order in the dying minutes to propel their side to a semifinal clash against No. 3 seed Magnolia.
With Meralco returning to the semifinals, all of the top four teams – including No. 1 TNT and No. 4 San Miguel – reached the last four for the first time since the 2017 Governors’ Cup.
Newsome put up his usual numbers of 23 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 blocks, while Caram delivered in a surprise start for the Bolts with 16 points and 6 rebounds.
Reynel Hugnatan churned out 11 points, Bong Quinto had 9 points and 4 rebounds, while Allein Maliksi added 8 points in the win.
Don Trollano waxed hot late with 19 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists, sinking back-to-back three-pointers in the final 1:20 minutes to pull the Road Warriors within 9 points, 86-95.
However, it was too little, too late for NLEX as Meralco sealed the victory with two insurance free throws from Johh Pinto.
Despite the quarterfinals exit, rookie Calvin Oftana impressed and capped his maiden playoff series with 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 2 blocks.
Meralco 97 – Newsome 23, Caram 16, Hodge 16, Hugnatan 11, Quinto 9, Maliksi 8, Belo 7, Pinto 5, Almazan 2, Pasaol 0.
NLEX 86 – Trollano 19, Oftana 14, Quiñahan 13, Cruz 11, Alas 10, Semerad 8, Soyud 4, Paniamogan 3, Miranda 2, Ighalo 2.
Quarters: 22-21, 46-35, 68-60, 97-86.