MERALCO used a strong fourth-quarter assault to beat a James Yap-less San Mig Coffee, 87-77, on Sunday at the MOA Arena and arrange a best-of-three quarterfinals duel with Alaska in the PBA Philippine Cup.
The Bolts outworked and outplayed a Mixers team that had nothing to gain from a victory, enabling them to seal the victory and end their elimination-round campaign with an 8-6 record and the No. 4 spot in the quarterfinals.
Meralco actually wound up with the same 8-6 record as idle Alaska but had the better quotient, relegating the Aces to No. 5 and leading to the best finish in the elimination round for the young franchise.
The Bolts’ win also sealed the Barangay Ginebra-Rain or Shine best-of-three match in the quarterfinals.
“We really wanted to put our spirit to the test in terms of finishing the elimination round. This is the best finish for our young franchise,” said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, whose team outrebounded the taller San Mig squad, 57-43.
"We’re really happy because we wanted to break barriers. Now that we’re able to zero in on the No. 4 (spot), our minds are now focused on Alaska."
Mixers coach Tim Cone opted to rest Yap, the 6’2” athletic wingman, who has bone spurs in his right ankle.
Without Yap, the Mixers rode the offense of Peter June Simon, who finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field.
But Bolts were just too much in the second half, unleashing a crippling 17-6 blast bridging the third and fourth quarter for a 74-63 spread with nine minutes to play.
The Mixers, who ended the elimination round with a 10-4 record, had secured the No. 2 spot and the last of two twice-to-beat incentives Friday night when they defeated Globalport, 107-96.
San Mig Coffee, which faces No. 7 seed and sister team Petron in the playoffs, only needs to win once to advance to the semifinal round.
Late in the first half, Gregorio and the Bolts had a scare when ace playmaker Sol Mercado twisted his right ankle after stepping on the foot of San Mig Coffee point guard Jonas Villanueva.
But the durable Mercado had it taped heavily during halftime and went on to play in the second half, a move that Gregorio said inspired the team even more.
“I really didn’t want to play Sol in the second half. I saw it in the replay that he rolled his ankle. But he just didn’t want this situation to pass away where we have a good chance to have a good win heading to the quarters,” said Gregorio.
“It’s the type of effort that inspires us. In fact, before the game, he talked to us, to believe. And true enough we were able to pull through,” he added.
Gregorio now focuses on the Aces as they hope to make a strong start in the short race-to-two-wins series.
The Bolts mentor added they will have to find ways on how to neutralize Alaska’s super rookie Calvin Abueva, who burned them with 20 points and 18 rebounds in the Aces’ 88-85 win on November 28.
Meralco 87 - Cardona 15, Hugnatan 15, Mercado 12, Borboran 9, Buenafe 9, Reyes 8, Sharma 7, Hodge 5, Salvacion 3, Nabong 2, Ross 2, Bulawan 0.
San Mig Coffee 77-Simon 19, Ramos 15, Barroca 8, Pingris 8, De Ocampo 8, Gaco 5, Devance 4, Intal 3, Ponferada 2, Villanueva 2, Gonzales 2, Reavis 1, Pacana 0.
Quarterscores: 19-15; 45-39; 68-61; 87-77.