GARY David carried Meralco on his broad shoulders with three huge baskets in overtime to lead the Bolts to a thrilling 92-88 win over a tough-fighting Air21 squad in the main game of the PLDT myDSL-PBA Philippine Cup on Saturday at the Mall of Asia Arena.
The 35-year-old David willed the Bolts back in the extra session, capping a season-high 34-point scoring night by nailing back-to-back jump shots before driving past an Air21 defender to give Meralco an 87-84 lead heading into the final minute.
Reynel Hugnatan’s short jump shot and Danny Ildefonso’s free throw sandwiched Asi Taulava’s two baskets late in the game that all but clinched the Bolts’ fourth win in 11 matches, ending the team's four-game losing slide.
“What an incredible test again. But this time, we made sure we’ll come out on top,” said Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio, who was so relieved to see his team escape with a win after a near-collapse in regulation.
Gregorio said images of the team’s heartbreaking one-point loss to Barangay Ginebra was playing on his mind when Air21 forward KG Canaleta buried three triples in a matter of 74 seconds to wipe out what once stood as a nine-point Meralco lead.
Canaleta’s corner three-point shot at the buzzer off Ildefonso’s outstretched arm sent the game into overtime. Regulation score ended at 79-all.
“It was a scary game. I can’t deny that fact. A really scary game,” admitted Gregorio.
David finished with a personal conference-high on 13-of-26 shooting from the field, getting the better of Canaleta in a shootout after the Air21 sweet-shooting forwarded ended with 32 on 11-of-23 shooting.
Taulava added 15 and while equalling his career-high 26 rebounds for the Express.
“Images of the Ginebra game was there in our minds so I told my players, we’ll come out fighting and make right decisions in the end, and that’s what we did in OT,” Gregorio said.
Gregorio credited new acquisition Ildefonso for his steady veteran leadership, which greatly help the Bolts after just four days of practice with the team.
“I’ve been praying so hard for an opportunity like this. It was just an incredible feeling that the guy who was already left out (by another team) helped us tonight. And that’s Danny I.,” said the former Coach of the Year awardee.
Ildefonso, signed up on Friday to a one-conference deal, marked his Meralco debut by scoring 14 points on a near-flawless 6-of-7 shooting from the field to go along with six rebounds and five assists.
The 6’5” forward out of National University scored 10 points in the second half and hit the game-clinching free throw in the dying seconds of overtime.
Meralco 98 – David 34, Ildefonso 14, Wilson 13, Hugnatan 9, Dillinger 8, Salvacion 5, Guevarra 5, Hodge 4, Timberlake 0, Al-Hussaini 0, Artadi 0.
Air21 88 – Canaleta 32, Taulava 15, Yeo 10, Manuel 8, Vardona 7, Sharma 6, Camson 4, Matias 2, Arboleda 2, Ritualo 2, Jaime 0, Menor 0, Custodio 0.
Quarterscores: 21-15; 38-31; 56-56; 79-79; 92-88.