Meralco warded off Mahindra’s fourth quarter rally and held on for a 94-86 win on Friday at the start of the Philippine Basketball Association Season 42 Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts banked on guards Baser Amer and Chris Newsome while import Alex Stepheson had a solid outing for the squad of head coach Norman Black.
Baser finished with a career-high 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field while Newsome flirted with a triple-double performance with 17 points, seven rebounds and seven assists.
Stepheson debuted in the PBA with 11 points, 21 rebounds and three blocks as he provided the needed inside presence for the Bolts.
“We worked hard in the off season to improve our game. We have to give Alex (Stepheson) some time to get in shape as far as size and to be able to get those defensive rebounds,” said Black.
“Amer has really matured a lot. It seems he has a good grasp of the PBA,” added Black.
The backcourt duo of Newsome and Anjo Caram combined for 14 points in the opening period to provide the Bolts a 22-18 cushion going to the second quarter.
The Floodbuster fought back as they unleashed a 10-6 run highlighted by White’s back-to-back baskets to tie the game at 28-all with 8:13 to go in the second period.
Meralco responded with its own 8-0 blitz capped by Jared Dillinger’s three-pointer with four minutes to go for a 36-28 advantage in second frame. Dillinger handed the Bolts their biggest lead in the first half, 44-30, with a jump shot with 10 seconds to go.
Ryan Arana trimmed the deficit to 33-44 at the halftime break after hitting a buzzer-beating trey.
Mahindra came out even closer within 53-56 after Reden Celda’s three-point play with 5:22 left in the third, but a 10-3 run by Meralco highlighted by Jonathan Uyloan’s two triples stretched the Bolts’ lead to 66-56 with 49 ticks to go in the third canto.
The Floodbuster again staged a rally with a 9-2 assault led by Mallari’s seven markers to threaten at 67-68 with nine minutes left in the game.
But Meralco retaliated with a telling 10-0 run capped by Newsome’s jumper to extend the lead back to double digit, 78-67, with 6:45 to go.
Mahindra import James White, who had 33 points, 16 rebounds and four blocks, scored on a three-point play to push the Floodbuster within four, 82-86 with only 1:50 left in the game.
Newsome and Cliff Hodge scored the needed baskets late in the game, providing Meralco an eight-point lead, 92-84, with only 27 seconds left to deny Mahindra an upset.
Mallari notched 21 points, seven assists, five rebounds and four steals also for Mahindra.