MERALCO exploited a tired Powerade squad as it turned back the Tigers, 94-86, on Wednesday night to clinch the sixth and last PBA Governors’ Cup semifinal berth at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts were pushing the pedal to the metal all game long against the Tigers, whose back-to-back game schedule seemed to have taken its toll on them.
The Bolts clearly were the aggressors throughout the game as they had more fast-break points (20-6) and points off turnovers (22-11) than the Tigers.
“It was all about effort,” Bolts coach Ryan Gregorio said. “We wanted to make sure we pounced on the Tigers and grabbed whatever advantage we had.”
Mario West fired 26 points, grabbed eight boards and stole the ball four times to lead the Bolts to their first-ever semifinal appearance in six conferences.
The Bolts had a chance to clinch the semifinals outright last Sunday, but they lost, 81-79, to Barako Bull, forcing a three-way playoff.
They finally grabbed the opportunity against the Tigers.
“The hardest is the breakthrough (semis appearance) because there’s a lot of pressure,” Gregorio said. “But we didn’t let the opportunity slip away this time.”
Mac Cardona also shone for the Bolts with 24 points and six assists. Reynel Hugnatan and Sol Mercado were the two other twin-digit scorers for Meralco, tallying 14 and 10 markers, respectively.
Asi Taulava was his rejuvenated self, playing 38 minutes and recording six points, 12 rebounds, four steals, and three blocks.
“Asi’s been a great inspiration for us,” Gregorio said. “Hopefully we can squeeze out whatever’s left in him to tow us to victory.”
The Tigers still led, 45-44, at halftime, before their legs seemed to have given in by the third quarter. The Bolts outscored them, 25-15, in the period and never looked back.
Omar Sneed led the Tigers with 29 points, including 22 in the payoff period where the 36-year-old import almost singlehandedly rallied his squad.
Sneed’s back-to-back baskets with one minute and 13 seconds left in the game helped the Tigers come within four, 90-86, but two tough shots from West and Cardona in the ensuing possessions sealed the win for the Bolts.
Gary David showed no signs of being hobbled by an ankle injury as he scored 15 points in the first six minutes of the opening period. But he cooled off the rest of the way, adding just seven points to his total.