(UPDATED) The Meralco Bolts are still alive in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup after escaping with a 102-98 triumph against the Magnolia Hotshots, Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Nards Pinto netted a new career-high, Allein Maliksi had his highest scoring game in a Meralco uniform, and the Bolts weathered the absence of main gun Chris Newsome in the final seven minutes to snatch the victory in Game 5.
Magnolia's lead in the best-of-seven semifinals series now stands at 3-2, with Game 6 set for Friday still at the Bacolor venue.
"We had our backs up against the wall, there was no tomorrow for us. So, it was a very gutsy performance on the part of my players to go out and battle the entire game," Meralco coach Norman Black said afterward.
"I thought (Magnolia) played well tonight, they really played to go out and shut us off already and eliminate us," he noted. "But we stood our ground, we made some big shots down the stretch."
Maliksi scored nine of his game-high 29 points in the fourth quarter, including two clutch three-pointers that helped the Bolts stay in control. Pinto added 24 points, and Newsome had 23 points, six assists and five rebounds before fouling out with still 7:10 to play in the game.
The Bolts rallied from a double-digit deficit in the opening quarter and were down by just two points, 71-69, heading into the final period. Magnolia repeatedly tried to pull away, but Meralco got big shots from Pinto in the third frame to keep them in the hunt.
It was Maliksi who finally put the Bolts ahead when he drew a foul from Paul Lee on a three-pointer and coolly made all three free throws. He drained another triple with 2:06 to go for a 96-90 lead -- their biggest of the game.
"Kailangan ko lang mag-step up, kasi do-or-die for us eh," said Maliksi, who bounced back after only scoring two points in the Bolts' 81-69 defeat in Game 4. "Kailangan mag-set ako ng good example sa mga teammates ko, as a veteran for them."
A split at the line by Ian Sangalang and a tip-in by Calvin Abueva got Magnolia within three points, 96-93, but Maliksi netted yet another clutch three-pointer for a 99-93 count with just 1:21 left in the game.
But Magnolia, seeking a third All-Filipino finals in four seasons, refused to go down easy. Abueva drained a three-pointer with 40 seconds left to make it a one possession game, 99-96, and the Bolts left the door open for the Hotshots when they committed a turnover in their next possession.
Meralco clamped down defensively from there, with Pinto forcing Paul Lee to give up the ball and Jio Jalalon misfiring on a layup with 10 seconds left. But off a duty foul by Abueva, Raymond Almazan -- back in the fold after sitting out the past two games due to an ankle injury -- made only one of two free throws for a 100-96 Meralco lead with 10 seconds left.
The Hotshots gave themselves a chance as Mark Barroca found Abueva for an alley-oop layup off a timeout, but Almazan made two clutch free throws with seven seconds left and Jalalon's triple was off mark in Magnolia's final possession.
"We kept our composure, and we gave ourselves a chance to come back in the series," Black said.
Squandered in the loss was a 25-point outing from Barroca, who also had six rebounds and four assists and missed just one of 10 field goals. Abueva had 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists, and Ian Sangalang continued his steady play with 15 points and 14 rebounds.
Lee made only four of 10 shots for 13 points.
The scores :
MERALCO 102 – Maliksi 29, Pinto 24, Newsome 23, Almazan 9, Hugnatan 6, Hodge 4, Belo 4, Quinto 3, Pasaol 0, Caram 0, Jackson 0
MAGNOLIA 98 – Barroca 25, Abueva 19, Sangalang 15, Lee 13, Jalalon 12, Ahanmisi 8, Reavis 6, Dionisio 0, Corpuz 0, Dela Rosa 0
Quarters : 23-33, 45-47, 69-71, 102-98