MERALCO played like a team on a mission, peppering Air21 with a barrage of baskets from inside and out in the final period on the way to an easy 85-72 victory Sunday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the MOA Arena in Pasay City.
The Bolts uncorked a dizzying 18-1 bomb in a pivotal fourth-quarter run, turning a six-point lead into an unreachable 85-63, with one minute and 30 seconds left in the game.
But what drew the smile of Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio was the way his wards responded defensively, holding the Express to just seven points during the first 10 minutes of the game.
“I think we defended well today, we defended our things well and put the numbers of Air21 to a not so significant number. They only scored 72 tonight so it’s really our defensive mindset that has dictated the scheme of things tonight,” Gregorio said.
Gregorio said aside from the victory, which moved the Bolts to fourth place with a 3-2 record, they feel relieved to have redeemed themselves from their one-point loss to Globalport Wednesday night at the MOA Arena.
“It’s nice to bounce back after that harrowing experience last Wednesday and come out with better focus. We competed, played good basketball and found ways to win,” added Gregorio, who lost his iPad, iPhone and wallet when robbers went inside the Meralco dugout during the first half of their game against Globalport.
Air21 absorbed its third straight loss this season and dropped to last place in a tie with Globalport at 1-4.
“In the last few games, if you look at it, we struggled in that situation. We could compete at a certain level but we would not be able to finish well. What’s lacking is our consistency. Probably, for the last few games, we have been outworked. Part is, because the players are still feeling their way with one another,” lamented Air21 coach Franz Pumaren.
Meralco’s tight defense forced Air21 to 19 turnovers, which the Bolts gamely converted to 25 points.
Pumaren said he has been giving the playing minutes on KG Canaleta and John Wilson, two players, whom they acquired during the offseason to serve as the team’s pillars.
“They (Canaleta and Wilson) should start assuming responsibility. They were just spare tires or relievers during the last few years. But down the road, the playing time would benefit them. Hopefully, they could start asserting themselves,” added Pumaren.
Sol Mercado followed up his 30-point outburst against Globalport with 24 markers against Air21. Mac Cardona bounced back from a two-point output the last time out, finishing with 18 points—15 coming in the second half.
Wilson led the Express with 16 points, but he failed to get the much-needed support from Canaleta and Mark Isip. Canaleta scored just nine as he went four-of-17 from the field, while Isip added only eight points.
Meralco’s Fil-Am rookie Cliff Hodge, who has earned scored several double-doubles, failed to score in 16 minutes. He went 0-of-8 from the field and had just three rebounds.
Meralco 85 – Mercado 24, Cardona 18, Buenafe 13, Hugnatan 10, Reyes 7, Nabong 6, Artadi 5, Salvacion 2, Hodge 0, Borboran 0.
Air21 72- Wilson 16, Taha 9, Canaleta 9, Sena 8, Isip 8, Omolon 7, Reyes 4, Baclao 3, Atkins 2, Escobal 2, Ritualo 2, Arboleda 2.
Quarterscores: 18-14; 43-33; 63-56; 85-72.