MERALCO made sure it wasn’t heartbroken on Valentine’s Day as it survived a furious Phoenix rally, 92-90, on Wednesday night to stay alive in the playoff race of the PBA Philippine Cup.
The Bolts wasted an early 16-point lead, but regained their bearings in the payoff period before holding off another late rally by the Fuel Masters.
Garvo Lanete caught fire with 24 points built around four triples while Cliff Hodge added 17 markers in 21 minutes before going down with a knee injury for the already shorthanded Bolts, who prevailed in the absence of Ranidel de Ocampo and Jared Dillinger.
The Bolts thus snapped a three-game losing streak and registered their third win in nine games, preventing the Fuel Masters from going on a win streak, dropping to 4-5.
“That was really a hard-fought game. I’m happy my guys kept fighting ‘til the end,” Bolts coach Norman Black said. “Phoenix fought their way back. We really had to dig deep to win.”
“We treated this game like this was a championship, because it was, for us,” he added. “If we had lost, we would be out.”
Indeed, the Bolts came out with a championship mindset, establishing a 29-13 lead late in the first quarter, before getting stuck in a rut in the third quarter, where the Fuel Masters outscored them, 35-16, to turn the game around.
Lanete and Anjo Caram steadied the ship for the Bolts, scoring seven points apiece in the final frame to retake the lead in what turned out to be a nip-and-tuck affair.
Lanete’s last basket gave the Bolts a 92-85 lead with a minute and 34 seconds left, before Phoenix converted five free throws to pull to within two points.
Jeff Chan, though, missed a potential game-winning triple as time expired that allowed the Bolts to heave a sigh of relief.
The result spoiled a solid showing from Willy Wilson, who pumped in 24 points, eight boards, two assists, and one steal, without committing a single turnover in 32 minutes off the Phoenix bench.
Matthew Wright added 16 points, but went scoreless in the payoff period and fouled out in the crucial stretch.
MERALCO 92 — Lanete 24, Hodge 17, Canaleta 9, Caram 9, Newsome 9, Tolomia 9, Hugnatan 6, Amer 5, Salva 4, Ballesteros 0, Baracael 0
PHOENIX 90 — Wilson 24, Wright 16, Jazul 13, Perkins 10, Chan 8, Mendoza 6, Dehesa 5, Intal 4, Kramer 4, Alolino 0, Chua 0, Eriobu 0
Quarterscores: 29-18, 54-40, 70-75, 92-90