Banking on their strong offense and defense in all quarters, Meralco Bolts jolted the five-time defending champion and fourth-seeded San Miguel Beermen, 90-68, to book their first-ever semifinals appearance in the PBA All-Filipino Conference.
With the momentum on their side, the Bolts ended the opening quarter with a fairly large 10-point lead, 21-11. The fifth-seeded Meralco was also quick to dispel any retaliation from Marcio Lassiter and the rest of the Beermen.
Lassiter tried to bring SMB closer in the third frame, hitting a couple of three-pointers at the start of the quarter to trim the deficit to six, 43-37, but the Bolts were ready for any comeback, unleashing a 16-0 run with 2:56 left in the period, to stretch the lead to 26, 69-43. During that span, the Norman Black-coached team went 14-for-19 from the field and hit 3-for-4 threes to outscore San Miguel 32-19.
Early in the fourth quarter, rookie Aaron Black push the lead to 28, 80-52. From then on, the Bolts extinguished every attempt made by the Beermen to pull close
“Tonight was really a focus on defense. We knew what we wanted to do defensively. We knew that they were a team that posted up a majority of the time, so we tried to devise schemes that would try to slow down their post-up (threat), Mo Tautuaa, and their guards. It worked very very well because the players executed the gameplan. So, all hats off to them. All the credit goes to the players. I’m so happy for them. They worked so hard,” said Black.
“It feels great beating them not only because they’re San Miguel but because we’re in the semifinals. They’re also great because they won five straight championships, but I’m happy to be here,” he added.
“It’s been a real journey this conference. Now I’m going to have to regroup them because the job is not finished. It’s only the semifinals. Now we have to put our sights on the finals,” he further added.
Meralco, however, will face their championship bane and a familiar nemesis in coach Tim Cone and Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Gin Kings, a club that had already beaten them thrice in the Governors’ Cup Finals in the last four years.
“Well, they’ve been getting the better end of the matchup, by the way, but hopefully we can change that in this conference,” Black admitted. “The idea is to set the goal to make it to the championship, and of course, for us to be able to do that, we have to go through Ginebra to get it done. We know they’re going to be the favorites. I mean, they have a very, very good team, a lot of quality players on their team, but we’ll be out there fighting.”
Cliff Hodge and Amer had 14 points apiece to lead the Bolts while grabbing a combined 13 rebounds. Reynel Hugnatan had a near double-double of 12 points and eight boards while Maliksi added 11 points.
Moala Tautuaa and Lassiter put up 20 points each for the Beermen, with the former finishing with a double-double as he also rebounded 11 times.
Arwind Santos, who now has 1,000 career three-pointers in his career, tying Al Solis at seventh in the all-time list, finished with 10 points.
However, the three were the only bright spot for SMB as the rest of the Beermen played below par.
Meralco vs San Miguel (SMB)
Quarters: 21-11; 43-31; 75-50; 90-68
Bolts (90) – Hodge 14, Amer 14, Hugnatan 12, Maliksi 11, Quinto 9, Newsome 9, Black 9, Almazan 8, Jamito 2, Jackson 2, Caram 0 , Salva 0, Pinto 0, Jose 0.
Beermen (68) – Lassiter 20, Tautuaa 20, Santos 10, Ross 7, Cabagnot 6, Zamar 3, Alolino 2, Pessumal 0, Comboy 0, Gamalinda 0, Escoto 0.