MERALCO has struck like a thunderbolt to shock all comers and vault to the top of the standings of the 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup.
Although there is still a full week’s worth of elimination round games, the Bolts (8 wins, 2 losses) formally clinched the top spot, along with a twice-to-beat advantage, going to the quarterfinals.
The Bolts received a big lift from veteran Jimmy Alapag, who turned back the hands of time, to help his team survive the last-ditch rally by the Alaska Aces and post a 107-101 victory last Friday, April 8.
The rest of the teams trailing closely – including the San Miguel Beermen (6-3), the Aces (6-4), Barangay Ginebra San Miguel (6-4) and the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters (6-4), though already qualified to the quarterfinals – will have to wait a few more playdates to determine their final placing.
The Bolts completed the electrifying turnaround after finishing dead last in the PBA Philippine Cup. They also posted the best franchise start ever ironically after their worst ever performance in the league last conference.
No doubt the players have been motivated eager to make up for the debacle. But more than anything else the Bolts benefitted from getting the right import in 6’9” Arinze Onuaku who has been their anchor at both ends of the court.
Against Alaska Onuaku finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds to power his team to victory. Additionally, the Bolts received a big lift from Jimmy Alapag who fired seven of his 16 points in the last two minutes and nine seconds of the game to defuse the Alaska rally.
Veteran guard Cyrus Baguio drilled a pressure packed triple to cap a furious Alaska rally which tied the count at 98-all with 3:14 to go in the game. But the Bolts leaned on veteran Jimmy Alapag, who scored seven of the final nine points of Meralco, to tally the hard-earned victory.
After the Baguio three pointer, Alapag pushed the Meralco Bolts back ahead by two points, 100-98, after two free throws, with 1:50 to go in the game.
Alaska could have tied the score at 100-all after a layup by Vic Manuel. But he stepped on the baseline before the shot.
Alapag then extended the Meralco lead on two free throws, 102-98, as Alaska trailed by four points. Alaska could not score in the next possession. Alapag then virtually sealed the outcome of the match by eluding a double-team by Alaska big men Shane Edwards and Sonny Thoss and then going on to score a layup as the Bolts forged ahead by six points, 104-98, with just 1:05 to go in the game.
Alaska’s do-everything forward Calvin Abueva led the Aces in defeat with 27 points and nine rebounds. Vic Manuel, the other half of Alaska’s bookend frontline, finished with 13 points and seven rebounds.
Their teammates RJ Jazul, Chris Banchero and Cyrus Baguio all had identical 12 markers, the same output of their import Shane Edwards who plays less and less effectively every game.
The Bolts also managed to tally victories even during Onuaku’s worst games. Even with Onuaku contained the Bolts still managed to beat the Mahindra Enforcers.
Onuaku averaged 21.4 points going into the Mahindra game. Against the Enforcers he bled for his points before finishing with just 16 markers. The Bolts found another way to win as their other gunners led by Cliff Hodge, who matched his season-high with 25 points on 11-of-15 shooting, waxed hot to tow their team to victory.
Onuaku, Alapag and Hodge are not the only Bolts to step up. Against Alaska Jared Dillinger came off the bench to tally 16 points and grab two rebounds for the Bolts.
Chris Newsome was his usual explosive self at both ends of the court. He finished with 11 points to go with seven rebounds. He was active at the defensive end as well even tallying a clean block against Alaska’s Abueva.
Bryan Faundo started at the power forward spot and was steady with six points and three rebounds. Hodge scored seven points and grabbed seven rebounds.
The Bolts were embarrassed during the Philippine Cup. It may be the best thing that could happen to them because this motivated team is now playing with fire, passion and drive that could only be fueled by a shameful last place finish.