MERALCO stamped its seniority over NLEX when it mattered as it hacked out a 104-97 victory to advance to the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals on Monday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.
The second-seeded Bolts, who lost to the Road Warriors in the elimination round, overcame a fourth-quarter deficit to eliminate their sister team as they didn’t have to use their twice-to-beat advantage.
“If you would’ve told me before that we were going to be first team to advance, I wouldn’t have believed you,” admitted Bolts coach Norman Black, whose team finished dead last in the Philippine Cup. “But it’s been a nice ride so far.”
“I can’t pinpoint any player who stood out,” he added. “It was really a team effort today.”
Cliff Hodge, Jared Dillinger, and Chris Newsome delivered the biggest baskets down the stretch, while Reynel Hugnatan provided a huge spark off the bench to lead a balanced effort that made up for import Arinze Onuaku getting shackled anew.
The Bolts, who will face the winner of the Tropang TNT-Alaska quarterfinal pairing, appeared they would have to use their twice-to-beat advantage as they trailed by nine points halfway through the payoff period.
But they outscored the Road Warriors, 26-10, from there on to seal the deal.
Hugnatan showed the way with 20 points, including 10 in the fourth period, and seven boards in 29 minutes off the bench, while Hodge added 19 points and finished a rebound shy of a double-double.
Dillinger chipped in 18 markers, including two on a jumper that gave the Bolts the lead for good at 93-92 with 1:41 to go.
Onuaku, constantly facing double- and triple-teams, wound up with just 13 points and 11 boards in 36 minutes as his numbers paled to that of Al Thornton’s 38 points and 14 boards in 37 minutes.
But the Bolts import scored on a crucial putback off a missed desperation triple by Dillinger that gave his team a 98-94 lead with 27 ticks left.
MERALCO 104 – Hugnatan 20, Hodge 19, Dillinger 18, Newsome 15, Onuaku 13, Amer 9, Alapag 8, Caram 2, Buenafe Ro. 0, Buenafe Ry. 0, Ferriols 0
NLEX 97 – Thornton 38, Lanete 21, Enciso 9, Borboran 8, Taulava 8, Anthony 6, Alas 4, Villanueva J. 2, Villanueva E. 0
Quarterscores: 19-22, 38-43, 70-71, 104-97