Meralco secured a semifinals slot while the Pure-foods Star Hotshots forced a rubber match by beating their respective rivals in the quarterfinals of the Philippine Basketball Association Season 41 Commissioner’s Cup at the Araneta Coliseum on Monday.
Despite a nine-point deficit in the middle of fourth quarter, Meralco managed to post a 104-97 win over Northern Luzon Expressway (NLEX) to claim the first semis berth.
A three-point play of Cliff Hodge allowed the Bolts to snatch the lead, 96-92, with only 1:16 remaining. Meralco outscored NLEX in the fourth period 34-26.
“It was a hard fought game – we had a difficult time on their defense,” Meralco coach Norman Black told reporters during the postgame interview. “I can’t pinpoint anyone who stood out. It was really a team effort.”
Veteran power forward Reynel Hugnatan scored 10 of his season-high 20 points in the fourth quarter plus seven rebounds while Hodge contributed 19 points and nine rebounds.
“Hugnatan carried us for a long time,” added Black. “It’s been a nice ride so far. We have to defend the outside shots from the weak side to be able to break their defense.”
Jared Dillinger posted nine of his 18 points in the third quarter while rookie Chris Newsome notched 15 points, eight rebounds and four assists also for the Bolts. Baser Amer and veteran Jimmy Alapag contributed nine and eight points, respectively.
Meralco import Arinze Onuaku was limited to only 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting in the field and 11 rebounds but provided efficient defense. His counterpart in NLEX Al Thornton, in comparison, produced a game-high 38 points, 14 rebounds and two blocks.
Rookie Garvo Lanete also scored 21 points for the Road Warriors.
The Bolts scored more in the two-point area (32-24) and free throw area (31-16) than the Road Warriors. They also beat NLEX in rebounds (50-37).
In the second game, the Purefoods Star Hotshots through a strong fourth quarter performance beat the San Miguel Beermen 108-99 forcing a do-or-die showdown on Wednesday at the Araneta Coliseum.
Import Ricardo Ratliffe scored 33 points on 16-of-29 shooting in the field along with 29 rebounds and a block. Guard Allein Maliksi posted nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter including five triples while veteran Peter June Simon tallied 18 of his 22 points in the second half.
Mark Andy Barroca contributed 10 points also for the Hotshots.
“Super tough game, that’s playoff basketball personified,” said Star Hotshots rookie coach Jason Webb. “Thankful for the God-given heart my guys have. These guys, they never give up, they never give in. We’re finding a way to survive.”
June Mar Fajardo led San Miguel Beer with 24 points while import Tyler Wilkerson had 22.
Game 2 of the best-of-three quarterfinals series will resume today at the same venue with Talk ‘N Text and Rain or Shine seeking early entry into the semifinals.
The Tropang Texters beat the Alaska Aces 106-99 while the Elasto Painters defeated the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings 88-84 in Game 1 on Sunday both coming closer to grabbing a semifinals berth.