In contrast to the their dismal performance in the previous Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) conference, the Meralco Bolts managed to become the first team to gain a twice-to-beat incentive in the Commissioner’s Cup quarterfinals. They are currently on top of the team standings with an 8-2 win-loss card, followed by San Miguel Beer at 6-3, and Ginebra, Rain Or Shine and Talk N’ Text at 6-4. In the Philippine Cup just months ago, the Bolts ended dead last with a solitary win in ten games.
Multi-titled mentor Norman Black has certainly turned things around for a Meralco team that looked helpless in the previous conference. The Bolts started preparing hard right after they got booted out of contention. And now, the fruits of their labor are beginning to show. So what changed in their game from the last conference to the present?
What’s really sunshiny for the Bolts is their defense in the current conference, as they lead the pack in the least points allowed to opponents per game, with an average of 90.8 points. Brgy. Ginebra and Talk N’ Text followed with 92.5 and 96.4 points per game (ppg) respectively. If we break this down further, we will notice that the Bolts also hold down their opponents to a league low 40.86% in total field goal percentage, including also another league low of 30.9% shooting from behind the three-point arc. But that’s not all. The Bolts also give up the least rebounds and assists to opponents, with just 44 boards and 14.1 feeds per game. They’re also No. 1 in second-chance points allowed, yielding only 9.6 ppg.
Meralco best exemplifies the famous saying in basketball, “Offense wins games but defense wins championships.” Although it’s still far from over, and it’s still a big question mark whether the Bolts can make it all the way to the plum, their success in the current conference proves this point to be on the ball as they achieved top status even when they are the worst in offense with only 94.9 ppg. Of course, it helps a lot that the Bolts have some of the most notable stoppers in the league, like Jared Dillinger, Cliff Hodge and veterans Reynel Hugnatan and John Ferriols.
But there are other contributing factors as well. One of them is the steady game of former Syracuse University standout Arize Christopher Onuaku, the Bolts’ 6’9” import. The bull strong center from Lanham, Maryland has outstanding norms of 21.5 markers and 18.9 caroms on top of 2.5 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He is such an imposing presence inside the paint that helps Meralco’s cause especially on the defensive end.
Let’s not forget also the resurgence of the Bolts’ chief pilot, the incomparable Jimmy Alapag. The former MVP and Gilas Pilipinas team captain has come out of retirement to help breathe new life into the team. Playing over 21 minutes per game in the Commissioner’s Cup, Alapag contributes eight markers and 2.5 assists per game to the Bolts. But it’s his leadership and passion that truly gives his presence more value. In last Friday’s crucial match versus the Alaska Aces, the 5’9” spitfire unloaded seven of the Bolts’ last nine points to secure the twice-to-beat edge for his team with a 107-101 win. The “Mighty Mouse” finished with 16 markers.
Also worth mentioning are the visibly stellar performances of rookies Chris Newsome and Baser Amer. Newsome is the Bolts’ leading local scorer with eleven points per game, and also chips in 4.1 boards and 2.6 assists per game. Amer has become a reliable back-up to Alapag in the playmaking chores, providing the Bolts with 7.7 ppg and 1.6 feeds. Also pitching in quality minutes are Anjo Caram, Bryan Faundo, Ryan Buenafe, Ronjay Buenafe and Ken Bono.
It’s still a long way to go for the Bolts this conference but things are clearly looking neat right now.