SMART CLARK GIGA CITY – Being mistakenly dragged into a controversy that wasn't his doing has lit a fire in Reynel Hugnatan's belly.
The veteran big man hit a clutch jumper in the final 15 seconds that gave Meralco the lead for good on the way to a thrilling 83-80 win over Barangay Ginebra, sending their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series to a sudden-death encounter.
The last two of Hugnatan’s team-high 19 points shoved the Bolts in front, 81-80, before they played good defense against the Kings to send the best-of-five semifinal series to a deciding Game Fvie at the Angeles University Foundation gym.
Meralco’s senior statesman shot 3-of-4 from three-point range while adding four rebounds and four assists in a heroic effort that came days after being wrongly accused by netizens as the mystery voice behind the 'Ref, lutong-luto to ah' heckle which was heard on live TV late in the Bolts’ Game 3 loss.
The 42-year-old Ilonggo admitted being spurred by the allegations after finding himself at the receiving end of bashing from some basketball fans.
“Naging inspiration sa akin 'yun na maglaro nang maayos,” he said afterwards. “Parang (motivation) na rin. Pero kumbaga, laro lang.”
The specter of leaving the bubble was what really kept Hugnatan going even after the Bolts lost grip of a 46-31 lead early in the third.
“Kumbaga kasi ngayon win or go home na kami e,” he said.
Meralco trailed by one with 20 seconds to go and was coming off a timeout when Hugnatan hit the pressure-packed jumper.
The play wasn’t meant for him but for main man Chris Newsome.
“Nag-scramble na kasi, kaya nag-spread out na kami. So buti nag help yung tao ko kay New, buti nakita ako ni New. So nung pinasa niya sa akin, sabi ko ititira ko na ito,” he said as he recalled the go-ahead play for the Bolts.
The shot paved the way for a do-or-die Game 5 on Friday.