MANILA, Philippines - A fresh Meralco team wore down a Powerade side coming off a tough playoff contest, hacking out a 94-86 victory to gain a first-ever PBA semifinals stint at the Smart Araneta Coliseum last night.
The Bolts hustled a lot on defense and ran the breaks at every opportunity as they hurdled the Tigers and topped the three-team playoff for the last seat in the Governors Cup semis.
“It’s a breakthrough for the team. We’re making headway. It’s a step in the right direction in getting stronger and better as a team,” said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio as they finally made the semis for the first time since joining the league last year.
The Tigers hurdled the Barako Bull Energy, 99-95, last Tuesday in the first of two sudden deaths for the last semis seat but failed to keep up with the Bolts’ up-tempo game last night.
Meralco will thus carry over the worst win-loss (4-5) record from among six semis qualifiers but they remain hopeful of their chances to contend for the finals.
“We know exactly the things we need to make the finals – nothing less than a sweep. If we’re not able to sweep, we need to win four of five games (to avail of the incentive of outright playoff shot at the second finals berth),” said Gregorio. “As long as there’s a window of opportunity. As long as there’s a chance, we’ll grab it.”
Rain or Shine goes to the semis with a front-running 8-1 card, two full games in front of B-Meg (6-3) and another game ahead of Talk n Text, Barangay Ginebra and Petron Blaze which are tied at 5-4.
The one-round-robin semis begins tomorrow at the Ynares Sports Center in Antipolo with the Kings and the Bolts clashing at 5:15 p.m. then the Boosters and the Elasto Painters colliding at 7:30 p.m.
Knowing that the Tigers were playing a second game in two nights, the Bolts took advantage of the situation, playing a fast-paced game almost throughout.
The Bolts outscored the Tigers, 20-6, on fastbreak points and, 22-11, on points off turnovers.
“It’s about effort,” said Gregorio.
“Filipinos are really not equipped to play back-to-back games. The Tigers were coming off a game, and we pounded the opportunity. They’re not fresh and we’re fresh. It showed in the numbers we generated,” Gregorio pointed out.
Powerade main man Gary David endured an injured left ankle, starting out strong with 15 points in the opening quarter on perfect 4-of-4 three-point shooting and 3-of-3 charities.
Fatigue, however, took its toll on David himself towards the end of the game.
Mario West played a key role, scattering 26 points while holding down David to seven in the last three quarters of play.
Mark Cardona fired 24 points and Reynel Hugnatan and Sol Mercado added 14 and 10, respectively, for the Bolts who peeled away from a tight seesawing game in the third quarter, opening a 67-54 lead and holding on to the finish.
NOTES: Reigning champion Petron Blaze has enlisted Marcus Vondell Faison to take over from the injury-stricken Eddie Basden. A product of Siena College in Loudenville, New York, Faison is set to arrive from the US this morning, and, barring any hitch, debuts with the Boosters versus the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters at the start of the semis tomorrow. Before tapping in Faison, the Boosters took a look at Paul Marigney and also considered to bring back Anthony Grundy.
Meralco 94 – West 26, Cardona 24, Hugnatan 14, Mercado 10, Reyes 6, Taulava 6, Macapagal 4, Ross 2, Artadi 2, Bulawan 0.
Powerade 86 – Sneed 29, David 22, Casio 9, Salvador 7, Anthony 6, Guevarra 4, Tugade 4, Adducul 3, Belasco 2, Martinez 0, Lingganay 0, Vanlandingham 0.
Quarterscores: 18-25, 44-45, 69-60, 94-86