Last year’s Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Governors’ Cup championship left a huge black eye on the Meralco Bolts after bowing to the Barangay Ginebra Kings (BGK), 88-91, in Game Six on a buzzer-beating triple by import Justin Brownlee. It’s particularly stinging for Meralco import Allen Durham, who was assigned to guard Brownlee. The Kings took the 2016 Governor’s Cup crown, 4-2, in the best-of-seven finals.
Now, Durham and the Bolts are back in the Governor’s Cup finals after blanking BGK’s sister team Star Hotshots, 3-0, in the best-of-five semis. They eagerly await the winner of the TNT Ka Tropa – Ginebra series, which as of this writing, is led by the Kings, 2-1. Perhaps the Bolts are rooting for their fellow MVP Group team TNT. But I’m pretty sure they also want a chance to get back at Ginebra and Brownlee should they dance again in the season finale. Meralco clobbered Ginebra in the elims, 93-78, but lost to TNT, 107-113.
There are reasons for the Bolts to be optimistic in this campaign. First, Durham is clearly motivated to lead the team to the Governor’s Cup diadem. The Wyoming, Michigan native called Hulk is having a stellar all-around game this conference, averaging 25.4 points, 20.1 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 1.3 blocks. In the semis, he totally outplayed Star import Kristofer Acox to lead his team in scoring (21.7), rebounding (22.3), assists (5.0) and shot-blocking (1.7). Durham is on a mission to erase the stigma of last year’s debacle in the finals. Second, Durham is enjoying tremendous support from the locals, as several of them have been performing splendidly in the Governor’s Cup. Most notable is second-year guard Baser Amer, who has emerged as the Bolts’ best local scorer with 14.3 PPG, on top of 4.3 APG and 3.4 RPG. We always knew the reserved and humble kid from Davao was highly talentedbut it seems the former San Beda ace is getting better by the day. He dropped 31 markers in the quarterfinal rubber match versus Blackwater Elite. Chris Newsome is also awesome in this tournament with norms of 13.1 points, 6.3 boards and five dimes. Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge add a combined 19.1 PPG. Mike Tolomia and Garvo Lanete have surely injected more firepower to the Bolts’ arsenal. And defensively, coach Norman Black can always turn to his reliable stoppers, especially veteran forward Reynel Hugnatan and the tenacious Anjo Caram. Third, the addition of former Ka Tropa star Ranidel De Ocampo has certainly given Meralco a shot in the arm, what with his rich championship experience in the PBA. RDO was remarkable in the semis with 12 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 1.7 APG. He is a leader and a proven winner, who could be the Bolts’ biggest asset in the series.
But in the finals, Meralco’s league-leading defense of just 88.81 points allowed per game will be tested against the best scoring teams in the Governor’s Cup—TNT and BGK. Ka Tropa is No.1 in offense with 105.53 PPG, followed by the Kings’ 102.79. Black, a defensive specialist, will have his hands full against either TNT or BGK, which have several outstanding scorers. Ka Tropa import Glenn Rice Jr. is a scoring machine that’s deadly with both inside penetrations and outside sniping. He sizzled with 44 points in Game 3 of the semis, and has a conference average of 30.3 points to go with 10.8 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.4 blocks. Then of course, there’s Jayson Castro, who can still come up with 20-plus points in any given day. TNT’s dribble-drive system is also savvy with guys like Troy Rosario, Ryan Reyes, Kelly Williams, Tony Semerad, RR Pogoy and Moa Tautuaa. Ginebra might be even tougher especially now with a healthy Greg Slaughter, who has been making a living in the paint this conference. Brownlee is also on the ball with 23.6 PPG. Coach Tim Cone has the luxury of a deep roster that includes LA Tenorio, Japeth Aguilar, Joe Devance, Sol Mercado, Scottie Thompson and Mark Caguioa.
Whoever gets to challenge the Bolts in the finals however should brace for a grueling series, and expect a resolute Meralco side that’s out for vengeance.