(UPDATED) The Meralco Bolts, back in action after nearly two weeks off, pulled away late for a 95-83 victory over the TerraFirma Dyip, Thursday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The Bolts have not played since September 3 when they lost to TNT Tropang GIGA, 91-76. They sat out the previous week in accordance with the PBA's health and safety protocols.
Against a TerraFirma team in dire need of a win, the Bolts needed a big push in the fourth quarter to finally take control of the game and earn their sixth victory of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
Meralco got the win despite playing without Chris Newsome, Cliff Hodge and Raymar Jose, who are still in the league's health and safety protocol. Aaron Black, meanwhile, played just two minutes before sustaining a hand injury.
But plenty of players stepped up for Meralco, with six Bolts reaching double-digits as they remain in the hunt for a Top 2 finish that will give them a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.
"This win today was a big win for us," said Meralco coach Norman Black, whose team limited the Dyip to just 39% shooting from the field.
"We just have to play together, and play for one another. That was very important tonight, with a very tough game against TerraFirma. Our defense held up in the second half, and the guys came up with big shots," he added.
The Bolts led by 11 points late in the first quarter off a Trevis Jackson bucket, 23-12, but their turnovers allowed the Dyip to get back in the game in the second period. Even with Alvin Pasaol finding his mark in the third frame, Meralco still couldn't put TerraFirma away and they entered the fourth frame with just a three-point lead, 73-70.
Meralco's defense clicked in the fourth period, however, as they limited the Dyip to just 13 points in the final quarter. A three-pointer by Anjo Caram restored a double-digit spread, 91-79, with over four minutes to go and TerraFirma never recovered.
Big man Raymond Almazan put the finishing touches on the win, drilling back-to-back jumpers in the final two minutes to maintain the Bolts' comfortable lead.
"I think everybody really contributed at some point of the game, and I can really say it was a team victory tonight," said Black.
Bong Quinto led the way for the Bolts with 17 points, while Allein Maliksi added 12 markers and Almazan finished with 11 points and eight rebounds. Pasaol and Reynel Hugnatan each scored 10 points, and Caram finished the game with 13 points and three steals en route to Player of the Game honors.
Meralco improved to 6-2 and can tighten their grip on the second spot with another win over Blackwater on Saturday.
TerraFirma, for its part, absorbed a third consecutive loss to fall to 3-7 in the conference. They will be in a must-win situation on Sunday against the Alaska Aces if they hope to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Aldrech Ramos led the Dyip with 15 points, while Joseph Gabayni finished with 14. Juami Tiongson and Reden Celda each scored 10 markers, but the guards were silenced in the final quarter when Meralco broke the game open.
MERALCO 95 -- Quinto 17, Caram 13, Maliksi 12, Almazan 11, Hugnatan 10, Pasaol 10, Belo 9, Jackson 5, Pinto 4, Baclao 2, Jamito 2, Black 0.
TERRAFIRMA 83 -- Ramos 15, Gabayni 14, Tiongson 10, Celda 10, Calvo 9, Batiller 9, Canson 6, McCarthy 4, Ganuelas-Rosser 4, Adams 2.
Quarter-scores: 25-19, 50-49, 73-70, 95-83.