Meralco 102 – Blackwater 91
The Meralco Bolts blew an early lead against the pesky Blackwater Elite but recovered late, thanks to a 30-11 fourth quarter, which saw a balanced effort from the entire team.
The Bolts improved to 6-1 with the win, starting a new streak, while solidifying their hold of the second spot in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup team standings. The Elite sank further to 1-5.
The Bolts opened the game on a 9-2 run, securing rebounds to get opportunities in transition. But the Elite erased that deficit right away, tightening up on the defensive end.
Blackwater played Meralco off the three-point line well, face-guarding pick-and-roll ball-handlers to slow down the Bolts offense.
On offense, the Elite utilized their space to hit outside shots. They shot 41 percent overall from deep. When those shots started to fall and Meralco adjusted, Blackwater then went inside.
Greg Smith, a skilled offensive big in the low block, kept attacking the Bolts’ bigs. KG Canaleta even had his moments, also taking advantage of his size in the low post against the Bolts’ guards. Canaleta scored all of his 14 points in the third quarter.
The Elite took a comfortable 80-72 lead heading into the final period after James Sena hit a buzzer-beating three to close the third quarter.
But just when Blackwater had the momentum, Meralco blew them away in the fourth quarter impressively. Kelly Nabong and Ed Daquioag made plays. Baser Amer facilitated well. The Bolts shut down the interior on the other end, as the Elite struggled to score.
Meralco countered Blackwater’s defense, looking for new passing angles and entry points, while getting their forwards more involved, when their backcourt had already attracted most of the defense.
“Offensively, it took us a while to figure them out. They kept showing out on pick and rolls. They kept trapping our pick and rolls, which kept us out of our offense,” Meralco head coach Norman Black said.
That led to Nabong scoring 11 of his 13 points (6-of-8 shooting) in the final frame. He also grabbed nine rebounds. A three by Jared Dillinger put the game away, as Meralco made it a 100-88 lead late. He top-scored for Black with 21 points on an 8-of-14 clip.
A total of five Bolts reached double-digit scoring. Alex Stepheson finished with 18 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists. Chris Newsome and Amer added 14 and 12 markers, respectively.
“You have to give credit to them because they defended really aggressively. The more we kept holding to the ball, the more difficult it was,” assistant coach Jimmy Alapag said.
“We moved the ball in the second half because that’s how you beat [that defense].”
Meralco had 17 assists in the second half, against only four turnovers. The Bolts dominated the glass with 51 rebounds compared to just 30 for Blackwater. They also had a 52-34 lead in inside points and a 13-2 advantage in second chance points.
Smith led Blackwater with 19 points, 14 boards, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks. Mike DiGregorio played well for the second straight game, chipping in 16 markers, including three makes from long-range.