26 October 2010

Bolts 87, Painters 79

Gabby Espinas and Chris Ross
Gabby Espinas and Chris Ross appear ready to put their past disappointments behind them. So does Meralco.

The two shone when it mattered most, in the endgame, helping lift the Bolts to an 87-79 victory over the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters Sunday (24 October 2010) in the PBA Philippine Cup at the Araneta Coliseum.

Macmac Cardona reset his conference-high for the second straight game with 27 points, but it was Espinas, the only rookie who won the NCAA MVP award, taking charge in the closing minutes and former No. 4 Draft pick Ross fueling a sustained attack that pointed Meralco out of the conference's first and only three-game slide.

"Our last three losses were pretty much losses because we allowed ourselves to just roll over and die," said Bolts coach Ryan Gregorio after his team improved to a 2-3 win-loss slate overall.

"In the situation today we're slowly beginning to adjust to each other's strengths and I'm slowly beginning to discover the strengths of my team."

Sol Mercado had 17 points and a career-high seven steals while Gabe Norwood added 15 points and Doug Kramer 14 and 11 rebounds, yet RoS still continued its current trend of following up a win with a loss and dropped to the company of Meralco.

All because the Elasto Painters did not show the same fire the Bolts did in the dying minutes of of a very tight game which had 19 lead changes and eight deadlocks.

"We just wanted to compete," related Gregorio. "I realized there are a lot of my players coming off losing seasons and therefore have certain doubts in their minds. I just pushed them. I coached them from the opening minute up to the very last second because I knew they needed guidance, somebody to tell them, 'Yes, we can.'"

Espinas, made the fifth pick overall in the 2006 Draft by San Miguel Beer before being traded to Air21, Barako Bull and Sta. Lucia Realty, scored four of his 18 points and pulled off his lone steal in the last 3:35 of the game, enabling Meralco to take off and post its biggest lead at 84-76, still 1:52 left.

Mercado's three-point play whittled the deficit to just five, but Asi Taulava and Cardona canned charities that sandwiched Mercado's flubbed three-point shot against Ross that sealed the outcome.

Ross, a Marshall U product who has made the rounds of Air21, Coca-Cola and Sta. Lucia Realty, came up with his best game yet since last year by knocking in his conference-high 12 points to go with four rebounds, as many assists and two steals in 38 minutes.

He produced half of his points in the fourth period, the last a fastbreak layup that yanked the Bolts out of a precarious 76-75 lead. He also made a pair of alley-oop passes to Espinas and Nelbert Omolon to keep them in the lead.

"I always felt that Chris is a gem and it's simply a matter of time, really, for him to blossom into a consistent performer," said Gregorio. "Today he showed a glimpse of how good he can be." (NC)

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