MANILA, Philippines – Meralco drew prolific performances from its locals to edge Magnolia for the last PBA Governors’ Cup finals berth following a 94-81 semifinal win at the Araneta Coliseum on Friday, April 1.
On a night Tony Bishop struggled, the Bolts’ locals carried the offensive load, with Allein Maliksi, Raymond Almazan, and Chris Newsome taking charge as they eliminated the top seed Hotshots in the decider of the best-of-five duel.
Meralco will meet Barangay Ginebra in the finals for the fourth time in the last five Governors’ Cup editions and denied Magnolia of setting up the first Manila Clasico finale in a quarter of a century.
Sizzling from the get-go, Maliksi finished with 24 points on an ultra-efficient 9-of-13 shooting as the Bolts overcame an 11-point deficit and outgunned the Hotshots in a tense fourth quarter that saw Mike Harris exit.
Almazan submitted a perfect game of 18 points on a flawless 9-of-9 clip to go with 5 rebounds, while Newsome flirted with a triple-double with 17 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals.
“It is really the will to win,” said Meralco head coach Norman Black. “We talked about just winning for one another, playing for one another.”
The trio of Maliksi, Almazan, and Newsome connived at the start of the fourth quarter as they combined for 14 points in a 16-2 blast that swung a 62-65 deficit to a 78-67 lead.
In the middle of that run, Harris left the game with under nine minutes remaining after getting hit in the chin with an inadvertently elbow from Bishop during a battle for position and never returned.
But even without Harris, Magnolia trimmed its deficit to 6 points, 72-78, off a 5-0 spurt anchored on free throws from Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang, and Paul Lee.
Newsome, though, hit a booming triple to spark a 7-0 blitz that pushed the Bolts’ lead to its biggest at 85-72, while Maliksi drained another long bomb with 2:45 minutes left to keep the Hotshots at bay for good.
Sophomore guard Aaron Black also turned in an impressive outing of 16 points and 5 rebounds for Meralco, stepping up in the absence of Chris Banchero, who sat out the do-or-die duel due to a slew of injuries.
Bishop churned out 8 points on a frigid 3-of-18 shooting to go with 8 rebounds and 3 assists, while Harris delivered only 5 points on top of 11 rebounds and 2 blocks as both imports failed to find their offensive rhythm.
Abueva topscored for Magnolia with 21 points to go with 7 rebounds and 2 steals.
Meralco 94 – Maliksi 24, Almazan 18, Newsome 17, Black 16, Bishop 8, Caram 4, Quinto 4, Hodge 3, Belo 0, Canete 0, Hugnatan 0, Pasaol 0, Baclao 0, Jamito 0.
Magnolia 81 – Abueva 21, Lee 13, Barroca 11, Jalalon 11, Sangalang 10, Dela Rosa 6, Harris 5, Wong 2, Reavis 1, Corpuz 1, Brill 0, Ahanmisi 0, De Leon 0, Dionisio 0, Escoto 0.
Quarters: 23-29, 41-46, 62-65, 94-81.