JARED Dillinger played his best game since his return from a five-month injury layoff, serving as a catalyst in the Meralco Bolts' 73-69 win over San Mig Coffee on Tuesday that levelled their PBA Governors Cup semifinal series to 1-1 at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Dillinger, in just his third game with Meralco which got him in a trade months after suffering a hip injury in a car mishap, looked as if he never left as he scored 10 points and had four assists in 23 minutes as the Bolts turned back wave after wave of San Mig comebacks.
Meralco's tough defense and San Mig import Marqus Blakely's free throw woes hastened San Mig's downfall as the Bolts moved within two wins of a first-ever appearance in the Finals.
“We perfectly prepared for a situation like this. It’s going to be a grind, with both teams putting emphasis on defense,” said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, whose team dropped a 73-83 loss to San Mig in the series-opener.
“Limiting them (Mixers) to 69 points speaks a lot of the kind of desire we have in this game. Towards the end, we needed stops and we were able to make the stops. Now it’s just gonna get harder from hereon,” he added.
Meralco import Mario West scored 17 points but struggled from the floor for the second straight game, going just 8-of-36. But the Bolts drew 15 points and 12 rebounds from Reynel Hugnatan while rookie forward Cliff Hodge and Sunday Salvacion added 12 apiece.
Dillinger, playing just in his third game in a Meralco uniform, provided the spark off the bench with 10 points, two rebounds, four assists and the defensive energy that the Bolts sorely needed in the low-scoring match.
Curiously, the taller Mixers were outrebounded, 47-54 as the Bolts got a 10-0 edge in second-chance points.
Blakely led the Mixers with 24 points, 15 rebounds and five assists, but he also had six turnovers in thematch and went a horrific 12-of-26 from the free throw line.
Meralco 73 - West 17, Hugnatan 15, Hodge 12, Salvacion 12, Dillinger 10, Wilson 5, Reyes 2, Ross 0, Cardona 0, Cortez 0.
San Mig 69 - Blakely 24, Yap 13, De Ocampo 10, Reavis 9, Mallari 4, Barroca 4, Simon 3, Najorda 2, Pinferrada 0, Gaco 0, Devance 0, Pingris 0.
Quarterscores: 19-8, 34-30, 56-50, 73-69