Meralco hurdled one obstacle after another and gutted out a 102-98 Game 5 victory over Magnolia on Wednesday to live another day in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinals at Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Allein Maliksi bucked shaky first-half shooting, while Nards Pinto turned in a career game to overcome Chris Newsome’s exit and hold off the Hotshots’ fight back down the stretch that cut the Hotshots’ best-of-seven series lead to 3-2.
“It was a very gutsy performance on the part of my players—to go out and battle the entire game,” said coach Norman Black, whose charges also battled from 11 points down on the way to necessitating a Game 6.
“We also fought a Magnolia team on a good [day],” he went on. “But we stood our ground. We made some big shots down the stretch which was very, very important. We kept our composure and gave ourselves a chance to come back in this series.”
Maliksi finished with 29 points, finishing with 7-for-8 shooting from beyond the arc—a lot of them clutch—that kept Magnolia within arm’s length late in the game.
Pinto, meanwhile, chipped in 24 for the Bolts, who were orphaned by Newsome following a contentious foul—the guard’s sixth—called at the 7:10 mark of the final frame.
“Our defense was pretty solid tonight unlike last game, our outside shots fell, which was very, very important because we were up against a really good defensive team,” said Black.
“I think in this game, we just wanted to be able to fight another day. We wanted to play again on Friday,” Black added.
The Bolts thus booked a stint in yet another elimination game, but one with an added dimension, at least: A victory there will square the series and force it to a decider—and a shot at turning their long-running dream of a first All-Filipino Finals a reality.
Magnolia drew 25 points from Mark Barroca, and 19 from Calvin Abueva, who kept things interesting with a triple and a neat alley-oop play to bring the Hotshots within 100-98 with eight seconds left.
Raymond Almazan, still nursing an injured ankle, collared a crucial rebound and drilled his freebies to put the finishing touches on Meralco’s gallant stand.
“Raymond is one of the reasons why we’re here in the semifinals. He gives us a big man that can contend with all the other big men in the league,” said Black.
“There are no tomorrows for us. We can’t really think about any confidence or be too happy with the win. Instead, we just have to focus in on what we have to do to beat Magnolia again,” added Black.
“The one good thing about this game is we didn’t make very many adjustments coming into this game. We just played a little bit better than we played last game, and we were able to stay in the game with our perimeter shooting. So, if we can shoot the ball well on Friday, I think we also have a good chance of winning that game.”
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