MERALCO has learned its lessons well, and no way will it suffer the same misfortune that had hit it about two weeks ago.
The Bolts averted an endgame collapse against Barako Bull behind a strong finishing kick for an 85-73 win Friday night in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
Meralco appeared to have the game under control when it led 64-45 on a Reynel Hugnatan basket just before the end of the third quarter, only to see the lead trimmed down by a rampaging Barako Bull side, 67-73, with 8:11 to go in the payoff period.
By that time, Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio admitted the Bolts’ heartbreaking 102-98 loss to Rain or Shine in overtime after relinquishing a huge 26-point lead immediately flashed into his mind.
“The first guy that usually panics in situations like that is me. But I think today, since I’ve been watching games that we played wherein we relinquished big leads, I told myself if I show panic my players will mirror my actions,” he said.
“But I was barely breathing just to keep the acting job to the hilt.”
Taking the cue from their coach, the Bolts composed themselves and took care of business the rest of the way.
After Meralco’s lead went down to six, the Bolts held the Energy Cola scoreless in a six-minute stretch while rattling in nine unanswered points for an 82-67 lead with barely three minutes to go.
“I was so confident we’ll be able to pull through because it already happened to us. So the best test of somebody’s persistence is, if things happened to you it should not happen again,” added Gregorio, waxing poetic.
“I always feel like adversity is prosperity as long as you know how to react to the things that you’ve learned.”
It was a rookie, Kelly Nabong, who paced the Bolts with 12 points, while three others in Sol Mercado, Hugnatan, and Sunday Salvacion had 11 points each.
Meralco improved to 6-7 overall and remained on pace to at least land in either the No. 4 or 5 spots entering the quarterfinals.
The Energy Cola fell to a 3-9 (win-loss) slate as they still opened the door for newcomer Globalport (1-10) of grabbing the last available berth in the playoffs.
Ronald Tubid had 20 points and eight rebounds in a losing effort for Barako Bull, which was held to a 31.7 percent shooting from the field (26-of-82).
The loss also spoiled the 18-rebound performance of Barako Bull big man Doug Kramer, who also had seven points.
Meralco (85) – Nabong 12, Mercado 11, Hugnatan 11, Salvacion 11, Hodge 8, Buenafe 7, Ross 6, Reyes 6, Cardona 6, Sharma 6, Borboran 1.
Barako Bull (73) – Tubid 20, Alvarez 12, Seigle 11, Najorda 8, Kramer 7, Pennisi 6, Ballesteros 4, Anthony 3, Curz 2, Co 0, Yap 0.
Quarterscores: 25-19; 42-30; 67-57; 85-73.