MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATED) The Meralco Bolts averted disaster, fending off Rain or Shine for a 85-78 victory on Thursday night at the Angeles University Foundation Gym in Angeles City, Pampanga.
A torrid run in the fourth quarter allowed Rain or Shine to trim a 23-point lead down to just six points, 82-76, with under 50 seconds to go, but the Bolts did enough in the end game to escape with the victory.
Meralco improved to 5-3 in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup. It was also their second straight win after an 89-85 triumph over the Blackwater Elite on Wednesday night. For the Elasto Painters, meanwhile, it marked their second consecutive defeat, and they dropped to 4-3.
"Under the circumstances, we're 5-3. We're just happy to get the victory and move on," Meralco coach Norman Black said after the game.
Baser Amer had his best game of the conference with 14 points, seven assists and six rebounds, while Chris Newsome scored a team-high 17 points and veteran Reynel Hugnatan added 13 markers.
After settling for a 46-44 lead at the half, the Bolts clamped down on the Elasto Painters in the third quarter and limited them to just seven points while scoring 28 of their own. They built their biggest lead of the game, 74-51, at the end of the third period.
"I was very, very happy with our defense, and our offense was clicking against their zone," Black said of their play in the third frame. "We were executing well."
But they very nearly collapsed in the final six minutes of the game as the Elasto Painters ramped up their intensity on defense. Rain or Shine got to within 10 points, 78-68, off a Norbert Torres free throw with five minutes left. Both teams fumbled offensively in their next possessions before Raymond Almazan's slam dunk made it a 12-point game, 80-68, with 3:40 to play.
Three-pointers by Adrian Wong and Mark Borboran gave the Elasto Painters some life as they trailed 82-74 with over a minute to go, and two free throws by Torres off a Newsome foul further cut into the deficit.
But Newsome was able to draw a foul in Meralco's next possession, and his charities extended the lead to eight points anew -- enough to keep the Bolts in control until the final buzzer.
"Obviously, making turnovers is not a good thing," Black noted. "It's something we have to fix in our upcoming games."
The Bolts now have a chance to qualify for the playoffs in the PBA Philippine Cup, after years of futility in the conference. They may even contend for a Top 4 finish, which carries with it a twice-to-beat edge in the quarterfinals.
James Yap had 18 points, while Beau Belga and Norbert Torres scored 11 each for Rain or Shine.
But their young stars, Rey Nambatac and Javee Mocon, combined for just 13 points in another subpar outing. As a team, the Elasto Painters shot just 33.8% from the field.