NIÑO Canaleta proved to be a thorn in the side of his former team as Meralco held off Blackwater, 103-98, to get its PBA Philippine Cup campaign going on Friday night at the Cuneta Astrodome.
The veteran stretch forward, whose negotiations with Blackwater for a contract renewal bogged down, banked in the dagger three-pointer from near the top of the key off a pick-and-roll with Baser Amer, negating a late Elite fightback.
That highlighted Canaleta’s rousing debut for the Bolts that saw him finish with a game-high 25 points, built around five treys, missing a double-double by just one rebound, and adding two assists and two blocks in 28 minutes as a starter.
“We did a good job recovering from a slow start…but I think the energy to get back cost us down the stretch,” Bolts coach Norman Black said. “Baser Amer’s prayer was really big. And special mention to KG who was exceptional tonight.”
“It’s a good start for us, especially in this all-Filipino,” Black, whose team won just four of their 22 games in the last two editions of the last Philippine Cup, added.
Credit the Bolts’ rejigged, taller lineup that now also has Jason Ballesteros, Mac Baracael, and Nico Salva. Among them, the 6-foot-6 Ballesteros stood tallest, hauling down 12 boards and adding six points and one block in 30 minutes as the Bolts’ man in the middle.
But the newcomer that spelled the biggest difference was Canaleta, with his looping triple off Amer sparing the Bolts’ blushes after the Elite went on a 24-8 run led by Poy Erram and capped by two charities from standout rookie Raymar Jose.
Amer continued his development as the Bolts’ lead guard, orchestrating the team’s offense with aplomb by scattering 17 points and 12 assists – none bigger than the last one to Canaleta – on top of five boards, and one steal in 37 minutes.
Jared Dillinger also delivered with 15 points, 11 caroms, two assists, one steal, and one block, while Chris Newsome chipped in 12 points, three assists, two boards, and one block as Amer’s backcourt partner.
Allein Maliksi and Jose led the Elite with 16 points and six rebounds apiece in a losing effort.
MERALCO 103 – Canaleta 25, Amer 17, Dillinger 15, Newsome 12, Lanete 8, Ballesteros 6, Tolomia 6, Baracael 5, Faundo 4, Hugnatan 3, Caram 2, Salva 0
BLACKWATER 98 – Jose 16, Maliksi 16, Sumang 15, Belo 13, Erram 11, Cortez 8, Javier 6, DiGregorio 6, Sena 4, Pinto 3, Cruz 0, Banal 0, Marcelo 0
Quarterscores: 23-27; 44-44; 77-66; 103-98