MANILA -- It was a tough loss for the Meralco Bolts last night -- a 110-106 defeat to the San Miguel Beermen.
All evening, the Bolts played catch up to the defending Governors’ Cup champions.
After SMB looked to blow them out early in the first period, Meralco came back to within a point, 25-24. A poor finishing kick to the second quarter saw SMB take an 11-point advantage, 55-44. That proved to be tough to overhaul as the Beermen repeatedly repelled the fight backs.
I thought in the first half, SMB made use of its size as June Mar Fajardo was nigh unstoppable (15 points and seven rebounds) inside. The Beermen got 22 inside points to Meralco’s 18. Their outside shooting also found the range as they knocked down seven of 13 attempts.
I wondered why Rabeh Al-Hussaini wasn’t used to battle Fajardo inside. Ditto with Justin Chua. Bryan Faundo, who has been excellent at the four spot for Meralco, got into early foul trouble. Along with Kelly Nabong and Reynel Hugnatan, who all played the four and combined for 26 points and 12 rebounds, they were all right but had trouble handling not only Fajardo but also import Mike Singletary, who finished with 21 points and 20 rebounds.
The third period saw Meralco change its tactics as they went to work inside setting up Allen Durham (34 points, 11 boards, 5 assists, two steals, and one block shot versus five turnovers) or having Chris Newsome attack the interior. That had moderate success and it took a patented Jimmy Alapag explosion to spearhead the comeback.
The Bolts’ captain drilled three triples and scored on a dazzling lay-up that was accomplished by guile saw then notch the count at 79-all. However, SMB’s replacement import Singletary hit a deadeye jumper to restore the Beermen’s lead. Cliff Hodge showed how unlucky Meralco was when he was a split second late in tipping in a shot that could have evened up matters by the third period’s end but it was not counted.
Meralco did knot the count at 82-all, early in the fourth and final quarter where they traded baskets and stops. Trailing by two after a Newsome triple, 101-99 with two minutes to play, SMB’s clutch shooter Alex Cabagnot went to work. He drilled in a triple 12 seconds after Newsome’s shot to hang everyone’s head on the Meralco bench. They got a stop and it looked like the Bolts would return the favor when Cabagnot hit a jumper with four seconds left on the shot clock. All of a sudden it was 106-99 with 1:05 left.
The Bolts still had a chance after a Jared Dillinger trey (he looked uncomfortable wearing a protectionary mask that he took it off in the second half) to make it 108-106. JD had a near steal off an inbound but he hit his foot causing him to lose his balance as he tumbled out of bounds. Luckily, he wasn’t hurt. Time wasn’t on Meralco’s side as SMB closed out the match with two free throws for the win.
Meralco did better inside the lane in the second half, turning a 31-26 deficit in the battle of the boards to their favor, 53-51. The Bolts ruling the boards meant more points in the paint (48-46 on 46% shooting), 13-11 in second chance points, and 18-17 in fastbreak points.
They also had more assists 26-23. What hurt Meralco was their giving up or being whistled for too many fouls that SMB went to the line a whopping 44 times while the Bolts only went to the stripe 14 times converting nine.
The Bolts also did a better job of defending the three-point shots as SMB hit only two in the second half. Cabagnot’s killer trey with 1:48 (from the left corner pocket) and his succeeding bail-out shot were the points that hurt the most.
It’s a tough loss because it dropped Meralco to 5-4, while SMB went to 6-2.
Now they face Star this Sunday is a must-win match.
The Bolts have made great strides in the past two conferences where they have been more competitive. I think they have the size but not the output they want which is why they rely on players like Arinze Onuako and Allen Durham to make up for the deficiencies in the slot. Hopefully, the locals will continue to show their wares while others will be given a chance.
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