MANILA, Philippines -- When discussing Meralco, the conversation often centers on do-it-all swingman Chris Newsome, high-scoring guard Allein Maliksi, or steady veteran forward Reynel Hugnatan.
But quietly, Cliff Hodge has put together a fine campaign for the Bolts in the 2020 PBA Philippine Cup, where he established himself as their best defender and an efficient scorer when called upon.
In Game 4 of their semis series against Barangay Ginebra, when their season was on the line, Hodge put up 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting, along with six rebounds, three assists, and three steals in an 83-80 win.
It's already the second time that he's stepped up for Meralco in a do-or-die game in the playoffs. Against San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals, Hodge made seven of nine shots for 14 points and grabbed six rebounds in a huge 90-68 victory.
One reason for Hodge's rejuvenated play, Meralco coach Norman Black said, is his health.
"This is probably the first conference in a long, long while that he's been healthy throughout," Black said of Hodge, who played through an assortment of injuries in 2019.
"He hasn't had any injuries, knock on wood, he hasn't had any injuries this conference, and it shows on the court," the coach added.
Hodge is impacting games on both ends of the court this conference. Black has tabbed him as their best defender, but Hodge is also shooting 60.6% from the field and averaging 9.5 points per game.
"He's shooting a high percentage for us around the basket," said Black. "He becomes a threat when he can make those layups, because most of the teams don't want to really guard him."
"They use him as a way to help on defense, but he's been making them pay," he added.
For Black, however, Hodge's biggest contributions won't necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
"More importantly, he gives us that hustle, that heart, that we really need within the team," he said,
"(There's) a reason why he plays so many minutes. He's always on the floor for me because he gives us a lot defensively," he also said.
Hodge will be called upon to step again on Friday, when Meralco and Ginebra meet for the last time this conference, with a spot in the All-Filipino Cup finals on the line.