ON to the semifinals.
Second seed Meralco flexed its muscled in the endgame to earn a 104-97 victory against NLEX, becoming the first team to clinch a seat in the semifinals of the 2016 Philippine Basketball Association Commissioner’s Cup Monday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Reynel Hugnatan top-scored for Meralco with 20 points, getting help from Cliff Hodge, who had 19 points, and import Arinze Onuaku, who had a double-double with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Jared Dillinger added 18 points along with four rebounds and three assists and his all-around play helped the Bolts move forward to the Round of 4.
With the game hanging in the balance entering the last two minutes and the two gutsy squads having a great exchange down the stretch, the Bolts were the ones who rose to the occasion, racking up seven unanswered points to take a critical 96-92 edge with 1:16 left after a completed three-point play from Hodge.
In the succeeding play, Al Thornton attacked hard and scored for NLEX, keeping his team alive at 94-96 with 53.2 seconds remaining.
However, a putback from Onuaku with 27 seconds left allowed the Bolts to have more breathing room as their lead was stretched to 98-94.
Asi Taulava made a basket with 22.2 ticks left, keeping the Road Warriors alive with the Bolts lead down to 96-98, but Chris Newsome, after getting fouled, sank both his free throws, making it 100-96 for Meralco with 18.4 seconds left.
That eventually propelled the Bolts to the semifinals just for the second time in franchise history.
“It was a hard-fought game for us. We had a difficult time,” said Meralco coach Norman Black. “It was really a total team effort for us.”
Meralco will face in the semifinals the victor between Talk ‘N Text and Alaska in their best-of-three quarterfinal duel.
The Tropang Texters currently lead that series, 1-0, and are looking to clinch a berth in the next phase today in Game 2.
As for NLEX, its campaign in the tournament comes to an end as it is now headed for an early vacation.
Through the hot hands of Thornton early, NLEX started out like a house on fire, taking a double-digit lead, 15-4, after the first few minutes of the game, but Meralco settled down and finished the opening period strong to slice the Road Warriors’ lead to just three, 22-19, heading the second and get itself back in the game as well.
(Quarterfinals, Best-of-three—Smart Araneta Coliseum)
4:15 p.m. – Barangay Ginebra vs. Rain or Shine
7 p.m. – Alaska vs. Talk ‘N Text