In the first three quarters, the Blackwater Elite looked like they were poised to scored their second victory of the 2017 Oppo PBA Commissioner’s Cup as they were effectively handling the Meralco Bolts.
However, nothing could have prepared the Elite for a unbelievable fourth quarter uprising led by a Bolt who is not even one of their main options on offense.
Kelly Nabong scored 11 points and grabbed six rebounds in the pivotal run that allowed Meralco to come from behind and score a 102-91 victory over the Elite, Sunday night at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum. The burly forward was named the Best Player of the Game with 13 points on 75% shooting from the field while also grabbing nine rebounds, all in just 22 minutes off the bench.
Meralco throttled Blackwater’s offense as they limited the Elite to only 11 points in the final quarter while they scored 30.
“Our defense won us this game particularly in the second half,” said Meralco head coach Norman Black after the game. “Offensively, it took a while before we figured them out because they were trapping most of our pick and rolls. Eventually we just located the people we wanted to go on our pick and rolls and it worked for us specially in the fourth quarter where we scored a lot of points.”
Jared Dillinger led Meralco with 21 points, three rebounds, two assists, and three steals while their import Alex Stepheson had another double-double with 18 points and 15 rebounds. The young guards of Meralco also did their part as Baser Amer and Chris Newsome combined for 26 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists.
“This is a good win for us because we have a 17-day break and I have no clue what we’re going to do,” added Black. “When you’re playing well and you’re winning, you don’t want to stop your momentum because you never know what could happen when you get back. Still, It’s a good feeling because we’ve probably qualified for the quarterfinals already. In the past, six wins were enough to get to the quarterfinals but I don’t think that’s official. But six wins seemed to be the magic number before.”
Meralco trailed by six points early in the third period but a quick 10-3 blast led by Dillinger gave them a 54-53 lead at the 8:53 mark. However, the lead did not stay with the Bolts for long as Nino Canaleta finally heated up for the Elite.
After not scoring a single point in the first half, Canaleta exploded in the third quarter with 14, starting with a triple to retake the lead and end Meralco’s run.
The Bolts stayed within striking distance as a layup from Newsome cut their deficit down to three, 75-72, but Blackwater closed out the third strongly as Greg Smith responded with a dunk and James Sena beat the buzzer with a triple for an 80-72 lead heading into the final period.
It did not take long before the Bolts erased this deficit as Nabong, who was on the floor to allow Stepheson to get some rest, led a huge rally for Meralco. The bruising forward scored 11 points in rapid succession to lead a 20-6 run for the Bolts as they led 92-86 with 4:47 left in the contest.
Ronjay Buenade inched Blackwater closer with a bucket to cut their deficit down to four but Dillinger managed a split from the line before Stepheson and Newsome added back-to-back layups to extend their lead to nine points, 97-88, with 1:37 left in the game.
Dillinger then slammed the door shut on the Elite with a triple on their next possession.
It was a tough pill to swallow for the Elite as they were hoping to score a victory against one of the league’s top teams to somehow fuel their late bid to make it to the playoffs. Now, their hopes were dimmed even further as they fell to 1-5 while Meralco rose to 6-1.
Smith had another monster game for the Elite with 19 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists, three steals, and three blocks. The Elite would need even more of those games from their prolific import as they are very close to needing a sweep to be able to qualify for the top eight.
MERALCO 102 – Dillinger 21, Stepheson 18, Newsome 14, Nabong 13, Amer 12, Hugnatan 9, Daquioag 7, Yeo 4, Chua 4, Uyloan 0, Caram 0.
BLACKWATER 91 – Smith 19, Digregorio 16, Canaleta 14, Pascual 8, Pinto 7, Sena 7, Cruz 5, Aguilar 5, Buenafe 5, Cervantes 3, Miranda 2, Sumang 0.
Quarterscores: 22-24, 44-48, 72-80, 102-91.
– Meralco once again played without their usual starting forward Cliff Hodge. “He probably could have played tonight but there were no doctors available because of the Holy Week,” said Black. “We could not get the clearance for him to play so we decided it would be best not to play him just yet.”
– Another player on Meralco’s injured list is Chris Lutz who has yet to see action this conference. “His injury is coming along well but my gut feel is not to rush it,” Black explained. “He had surgery in November and we knew he’ll be out 4-6 months and it has not been six months yet. I’m not going to push him to make it this conference. I’m looking forward to next conference.”
Blackwater – April 22 vs. Star at the MOA Arena
Meralco – May 3 vs. Phoenix at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum