By JONAS TERRADO
Meralco survived a late rally by NLEX to escape with a 104-101 victory Wednesday and secure the twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals of the PBA Philippine Cup at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The Bolts led for the majority of the contest with Allein Maliksi leading the way, but nearly suffered a meltdown in the final minutes when the Road Warriors rallied behind the hot shooting of rookie Calvin Oftana.
Oftana’s eight and final triple brought NLEX to within two, 103-101, with 2.4 seconds remaining in the fourth, but time was no longer on their side and Meralco was able to come away victorious.
Oftana finished with 34 points – the most by any rookie in years.
By preventing a late scare, the Bolts were able to cement the quarterfinal bonus with an 8-2 record with a game to play against defending champion Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in today’s final doubleheader at 2 p.m.
The Bolts hold the tiebreaker over the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots even if they end up tied for second at 8-3.
“It’s just a game that we wanted to win,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “We know we have a big game against Ginebra where we might be a little bit tired playing back-to-back games and we felt that this one is crucial.
“We felt that this was a must-win to make the twice-to-beat, so the guys came out and gave their hearts out, particularly I would say the first 40 minutes of the game. The last eight minutes, maybe it wasn’t very, very pretty but at this point of the season any win counts. And now we look forward to our against Ginebra, and we look forward to the playoffs,” he added.
Maliksi scored 22 points, rookie Alvin Pasaol posted a conference-high 17 points, Mac Belo had 16 points, Raymond Almazan had 13 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks and Anjo Caram continued his solid fill-in role for injured guard Aaron Black with 10 points and four assists.
The Bolts gave limited minutes to Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge, who came back after spending two weeks under the league’s COVID-19 protocols.
Hodge registered two points, two rebounds and three assists in almost 18 minutes while Newsome was held scoreless in eight minutes before getting tossed with 10:38 left in the fourth for throwing the ball at Road Warriors forward Tony Semerad during an argument.
Meralco was up 101-82 on a breakaway dunk by Bong Quinto with seven minutes left but was held scoreless during a five-minute span which saw Oftana end a 13-0 run with a triple to pull NLEX within six, 1:41 left in the match.
Quinto answered with a basket for 103-95 before Oftana’s back-to-back threes.
NLEX, already assured of a quarters berth, ended the elims at 5-6 and could end up playing a best-of-three series of with a twice-to-win disadvantage as the seventh seed depending on the other remaining games.
MERALCO 104 — Maliksi 22, Pasaol 17, Belo 16, Almazan 13, Caram 10, Quinto 8, Pinto 8, Jackson 2, Hodge 2, Baclao 2, Jamito 2, Newsome 0.
NLEX 101 — Oftana 34, Soyud 14, Quinahan 13, Trollano 9, Ighalo 8, McAloney 7, Paniamogan 6, Semerad 3, Cruz 3, Miranda 2, Alas 2.
Quarters: 30-20, 65-54, 89-74, 104-101.