February 14, 2018

Meralco frustrates Phoenix, stays in hunt for playoff spot

MOST of Meralco's woes ended Wednesday, but it sure took a lot of doing.

Good thing Garvo Lanete came up with a big game and Chris Newsome pulled off a key stop in the dying seconds that enabled the Bolts to squeak past Phoenix, 92-90, in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Lanete scored a season high 24 points while Newsome stuck to Jeff Chan like a leech in the last 11 seconds to eventually foil the Fuel Master's bid to come up with at least an equalizer.

"It was a really hard-fought game and I'm just happy my guys stayed in there, fighting until the very end," said Bolts coach Norman Black.

"We really had to dig deep to win this," added Black, "seeing a big lead go, then the other team catch up and even take the lead."

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The win cut short Meralco's three-game slide and took its record to 3-6, although it remained at 11th, one full game out of the eighth and last quarterfinals slot.

Treating the game like one in a championship series also helped keep Meralco's faint hopes alive, according to Black, whose team still needs to win its remaining elimination round assignments against Barangay Ginebra and Magnolia Ang Pambansang to stay in the hunt.

"For us, had we lost we're out," explained Black. "Even if we win we could still be out, but at least we'd have a fighting chance."

Like in an 85-87 loss to NLEX last Friday Meralco once again lost a sizable lead (29-13) and this time even found itself trailing by 70-75, going to the last 12 minutes of play.

But Lanete and Anjo Caram were there to score seven points apiece in the fourth period, helping the Bolts stay together.

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Lanete's floater gave Meralco a 92-85 lead, but even that proved shaky when Jason Perkins and Chan pulled Phoenix back to within 90-92.

The Fuel Masters even had the chance to at least tie when Mendoza won a jump ball over Newsome, but the latter atoned by stymieing Chan, forcing the latter to hit the back iron on his double-clutch triple try.

"We just told everybody to stay on top of their guys," related Black. "Newsome stayed on him, followed him everywhere he goes. It worked out pretty good for us."

The loss dropped Phoenix to 4-5, notwithstanding the 24 points of Willy Wilson and at least 10 points each from Matthew Wright, RJ Jazul and Jason Perkins.

Wright could have helped in the endgame, but he fouled out with still 2:58 to go.

Already playing minus Ranidel de Ocampo (calf) and Jared Dillinger (infected toe),Meralco also saw Cliff Hodge leaving the game late in the third quarter after injuring his left knee following a collision with Wilson. He wound up with 17 points.

The scores:

MERALCO 92 - Lanete 24, Hodge 17, Tolomia 9, Newsome 9, Canaleta 9, Caram 9, Hugnatan 6, Amer 5, Salva 4, Ballesteros 0, Baracael 0.

PHOENIX 90 - Wilson 24, Wright 16, Jazul 13, Perkins 10, Chan 8, Mendoza 6, Dehesa 5, Intal 4, Kramer 4, Gamboa 0, Alolino 0, Chua 0.

Quarterscores: 29-18, 54-40, 70-75, 92-90.