PBA Philippine Cup

Fueled by championship belief, Meralco sweeps NLEX to set up semis clash vs Ginebra

Delfin Dioquino

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Fueled by championship belief, Meralco sweeps NLEX to set up semis clash vs Ginebra

FLOATER. Chris Banchero in action for the Meralco Bolts in the 2024 PBA Philippine Cup.

PBA Images

The chances of reaching the playoffs had looked slim for Meralco after its shaky start in the PBA Philippine Cup, but it has superbly turned things around as it set up another playoff date with familiar foe Ginebra

MANILA, Philippines – It was not too long ago when Meralco feared missing the playoffs after a shaky start in the PBA Philippine Cup.

But the belief that this team is capable of winning a championship has reinvigorated the Bolts, who claimed their place in the final four.

Veteran guard Chris Banchero turned in his highest scoring output of the season as Meralco swept NLEX in their best-of-three quarterfinals following a resounding 100-81 win at the Rizal Memorial Coliseum on Sunday, May 12.

Banchero finished with a season-high 23 points on top of 7 rebounds and 6 assists in leading the Bolts to the semifinals, where they will face familiar foe Barangay Ginebra in a best-of-seven affair.

“I think we understand that we’re a good enough team to win a championship. That is what we kept telling guys,” said Banchero.

“Even when things do not go our way and you lose a couple of games, you lose two games in a row, three, we understand that we got to play good basketball come playoff time. That is what we’re doing right now.”

Reaching the playoffs seemed like a remote possibility for Meralco after it dropped five of its first eight games of the conference.

Determined to avoid an early vacation, the Bolts managed to turn things around and ended the elimination round with three straight wins, including a rousing victory over erstwhile unbeaten San Miguel to secure the No. 3 seed.

That winning streak now stands at five games as Meralco made quick work of the Road Warriors.

“It is no secret we got off to a slow start. We got a bunch of vets in here. We know that a slow start is not the end of a conference,” said Banchero.

True enough, the Bolts look like they have found their form as five more Meralco players scored in double figures to backstop Banchero.

Allein Maliksi and Cliff Hodge delivered 14 points apiece, Bong Quinto chimed in 13 points and 6 rebounds, Chris Newsome posted 12 points and 9 rebounds, while Raymond Almazan added 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Even rookie big man Brandon Bates made his presence felt with 7 rebounds and 3 blocks – a performance that embodied the kind of defense the Bolts are proud of as they contained NLEX star Robert Bolick.

Coming off a 48-point explosion in Game 1, Bolick got limited to just 18 points on 6-of-18 shooting.

That kind of work on offense and defense will be crucial as Meralco aims to overcome a stacked Gin Kings side after winning just once in their seven previous playoff encounters.

“Always hard and tough when we face Ginebra. They’re well-coached, they got depth,” said Bolts head coach Luigi Trillo. “We know we have our hands full.”

Rookie forward Dominick Fajardo added 15 points and 6 rebound in the loss that marked a disappointing end for the Road Warriors, who showed promise with a 5-1 start.

Unable to sustain its momentum, NLEX fizzled out and lost six of its last seven games to conclude its season.

The Scores

Meralco 100 – Banchero 23, Hodge 14, Maliksi 14, Quinto 13, Newsome 12, Almazan 10, Caram 5, Torres 5, Pasaol 2, Bates 2.

NLEX 81 – Bolick 18, Fajardo 15, Herndon 11, Rodger 10, Semerad 9, Amer 5, Marcelo 5, Valdez 5, Miranda 3, Nieto 0, Anthony 0.

Quarters: 27-26, 52-49, 76-70, 100-81.

– Rappler.com

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Delfin Dioquino

Delfin Dioquino dreamt of being a PBA player, but he did not have the skills to make it. So he pursued the next best thing to being an athlete – to write about them. He took up journalism at the University of Santo Tomas and joined Rappler as soon as he graduated in 2017.