ALEX Stepheson fouling out turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Meralco.
Orphaned by their import, the Bolts got their act together late in the fourth period and in overtime to survive a big TnT Katropa comeback on Wednesday night, 103-100, and send their PBA Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinals series to a do-or-die encounter.
Stepping in big to fill the shoes left behind by the 6-foot-10 Stepheson was forward Kelly Nabong, who scored seven of his 15 points in the extra period to help the Bolts level the short best-of-three series at one game apiece.
Nabong shot 5-of-6 from the field, had six rebounds, and went 5-of-6 from the foul line, including the last two which clinched for Meralco the all-important win.
But the 28-year-old Nabong credited the entire Meralco team for staying together and not cracking under pressure despite Stepheson already out of the game as early as the 1:54 minute of the final quarter after committing his sixth and final foul.
“We came together as a team as our import fouled out,” said the blue-collar Fil-Am. “We have to lock down on defense because they have a big import.”
Just like players before him, Nabong also admitted having difficulty taking on Katropa’s massive import Joshua Smith on the defensive end.
“He’s 6-9 and 500 pounds and I’m only 6-6, and there’s only so much I can do,” he said. “But we did our job as a team and come with the W. That’s all I can ask for.”
The deciding game is set on Friday, also at the Big Dome. And just like Game Two, Nabong expects the Bolts to rise - or fall - as a team.
“I don’t want to be overconfident. I trust in coach Norman (Black) and our coaching staff and I believe 100 percent in my teammates that we’ll all gonna make it back to the finals (again),” he stressed.