(UPDATED) The Meralco Bolts led wire-to-wire in a 79-66 victory against Barangay Ginebra -- a result that sent the defending champions to the brink of elimination in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup.
The Bolts scored the first 10 points of the game and led by as much as 19 points to wrap up their elimination round campaign with a 9-2 win-loss record. The game had no bearing on Meralco's playoff standing, as the Bolts were already assured of the second seed and a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.
It was a costly defeat for the Gin Kings, however. With the result, their fate is no longer in their hands and they are now keenly awaiting the result of the final game between Alaska and NorthPort.
A victory by the Batang Pier will keep Ginebra alive, and they will take on Phoenix Super LPG in a playoff for the last quarterfinals spot. If the Aces win, however, Ginebra will be eliminated, and it will be Phoenix vs. TerraFirma for the eighth seed.
But Barangay Ginebra's playoff hopes were not on Norman Black's mind as they played their second game in as many days.
"We just wanted to win the game," the Meralco coach insisted. "I know we played them a lot over the years and like I said yesterday, I guess, the rivalry has been a little bit one-sided because they have been doing most of the winning."
"But you know, it's a game that just happened to be at the end of the conference, and we wanted to go into the playoffs with some momentum. We did not want to go into the playoffs with a loss. So it just happened that Ginebra was our opponent tonight," he said.
Mac Belo had 15 points and seven rebounds, rookie Alvin Pasaol also scored 15 points, and Chris Newsome put up 10 points, nine boards, and six assists in only his second game back since returning from the PBA's health and safety protocol.
The Bolts only shot 38.8% from the field, but they scored 23 second-chance points, thanks to 24 offensive rebounds.
The Gin Kings badly missed the presence of Scottie Thompson (health and safety protocol) and Japeth Aguilar (knee). They trailed right from the opening tip, and stared at a 15-point deficit at the half, 47-32.
Ginebra rallied in the third period, where they outscored Meralco 19-8. With Stanley Pringle and LA Tenorio finding their range, the Gin Kings clawed their way back in the game and trailed by just four points, 55-51, heading into the fourth period.
But Meralco, which lost to Ginebra in the semifinals of last season's All-Filipino Conference, would not be denied. They opened the fourth quarter on an 8-2 run to restore a double-digit spread, 63-53, and had an answer every time the Gin Kings threatened. Back-to-back three-pointers by Belo and Newsome made it a 13-point game, 71-58, with under five minutes to go.
Jammer Jamito, a former Ginebra reserve, put the finishing touches on the win with six straight points that stretched the Meralco lead to 16, 79-63, with just over two minutes left to play.
"Our offense has been pretty good the last three games. It was nice to see that our defense stepped up and played much better tonight in this particular game, because we're gonna need that down the stretch," Black said of his team.
Pringle led Ginebra with 19 points, and Christian Standhardinger finished with 17 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.
The scores :
MERALCO 79 – Pasaol 15, Belo 15, Newsome 10, Quinto 8, Maliksi 7, Jamito 7, Almazan 6, Caram 4, Hodge 3, Pinto 2, Baclao 2, Jackson 0
GINEBRA 66 – Pringle 19, Standhardinger 17, Tenorio 11, Chan 7, Mariano 6, Devance 4, Dillinger 2, Caperal 0, Enriquez 0, Holmqvist 0
Quarters : 23-15, 47-32, 55-51, 79-66