Chris Newsome vs Jerrick Ahanmisi. PBA IMAGES
Backed into a corner, Meralco bucked its manpower crisis—and Magnolia’s repeated tries at a comeback—to avoid sliding into a massive rut in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals on Friday.
The Bolts came out of the gates hard and sank the Hotshots in holes as deep as 21 points before latching on to a 91-86 Game 3 victory that trimmed the series deficit to 2-1.
“I think we displayed big heart [today],” coach Norman Black said shortly of his charges’ resolute stand at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
“We’ve lost a lot of players this conference, and it hurt us a little bit as far as depth is concerned. We just looked at it as a do-or-die … Treated it like there was no tomorrow for us. So I give all the credit to the players,” he added.
It practically was a do-or-die for the Bolts. A loss would have meant staring at a three-game deficit, something only one team in all of professional basketball has ever done—San Miguel Beer erased Alaska’s 3-0 cushion to win the 2015-16 Philippine Cup.
Chris Newsome finished with 17 points including a jumper with 6.5 ticks left that snuffed Magnolia’s hopes of completing its comeback.
Meralco also got the goods from its new star Mac Belo, the unheralded Nards Pinto and seldom-used veteran Noy Baclao, who plugged the hole punched by the absence of starting center Raymond Almazan, who is nursing an ankle injury. The Bolts were also without Trevis Jackson and Jammer Jamito, who remain under the PBA’s health and safety protocols.
A bit tired
Paul Lee scored eight of his team-best 18 points in the fourth quarter to help wipe out Meralco’s double-digit cushion and put Magnolia within three points in the final 28 seconds of the contest.
Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva provided their usual twin-digit scores, while Jerrick Ahanmisi tossed in quality minutes in the fourth to make things truly interesting down the stretch.
“We did have a pretty good-sized lead there that we lost once again. I think we got a little bit tired down the stretch, but the guys were able to hold on for the victory,” said Black.
Meralco is not out of the woods just yet, and Black knows that. However, he feels that his foremost task now is to make sure his players are fresh before Sunday’s Game 4 comes around. This as Almazan remains doubtful for the next meeting.
“I think the first thing is to get back in the locker room, make sure everybody is OK. Nards got cramps in the fourth quarter, so we’ve got to make sure we check with the other guys. At the same time we put ourselves back in series,” he said.
“They still have a 2-1 advantage, so they’re still up as far as the series is concerned,” Black added.In the second game, TNT pounced on an erratic San Miguel Beer squad to hammer out a 115-98 victory in Game 3 of their semifinal series.
The Tropang Giga now lead their race-to-four affair, 2-1.