MERALCO coach Ryan Gregorio was honest enough to admit that his injury-riddled side holds no edge whatsoever against Alaska in what he described as a "playoff-type" game on Friday night.
But the Bolts coach is hoping to ride the inspiration of Danny Ildefonso's comeback story as the team looks to write its own Hollywood ending to a campaign filled with trials in the PBA Philippine Cup.
“The addition of DI (Ildefonso’s initials) made us a competitive crew,” Gregorio said, days after the two-time league MVP and free-agent pick-up had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists to help the Bolts snap a four-game losing streak with a 92-88 overtime win over Air21 last week.
But more than the numbers, Gregorio said it was Ildefonso's rise after being unceremoniously dumped by his team of 15 years, Petron, that could inspire Meralco to overcome its share of adversity.
“His quantifiable contributions are obvious - score, rebound, assist, defend, etc," Gregorio said of his newly acquired big man. "But his biggest value is the inspiration that he generated with his (life) story.”
Gregorio now hopes Ildefonso and a Bolts team left without Mike Cortez and Kerby Raymundo can survive Alaska in a game that will have a big impact on the two teams' playoff hopes.
At 4-7 (win-loss), the two teams are tied for the sixth to ninth places with GlobalPort and San Mig Coffee. Only eight teams will make the playoffs.
“We have no edge (in the game). (It’s) survival mode for both teams. Playoff mentality came in early. We couldn’t afford to have a lackadaisical performance,” said Gregorio, the three-time PBA champion coach.
"We have the same win-loss mark. We are aware of the repercussions of the game."
Alaska dumped Meralco, 91-82 during their first meeting on December 18 behind Dondon Hontiveros’ conference-breakout game of 24 points, Sonny Thoss’ all-around performance of 20 points, seven boards and four blocks, and Gabby Espinas’ career-high 23 rebounds.
For his part, Alaska coach Luigi Trillo, last season’s Coach of the Year, said the Aces need to get better defensively if they hope to finally get out of the win-loss-win-loss cycle with three games left in their elimination-round schedule.
“Sayang, we could have beaten Talk ‘N Text,” said Trillo, whose team dropped to 0-2 this conference against the three-time Philippine champion Talk ‘N Text after bowing, 117-121, in overtime last weekend.
The loss marked the fourth time in 11 games that Alaska has lost by four points or less this season.
“Just my concern now is we need to play consistently on defense. We need to get better on that,” he said.
“Every win is needed in our last three games because at this point, all six teams (in the lower bracket of the standings), their last three games, except for Air21 which got two games left, those are playoff-type games.”