24 March 2012

Bolts 101, Air21 91

Asi Taulava
Meralco tried to put the game away and dishearten Air21 early. In the end, it was the Bolts' toughness that kept their playoff chances alive.

Meralco scored all but six of the game's first 34 points, and then stood its ground after the game turned physical and Air21 waged a comeback, pulling off a 101-91 victory and keeping their slim hopes for a playoff spot alive in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Friday night (23 March 2012) at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Mark Cardona had seven of the Bolts' final 12 points including a back-breaking three-point shot that gave Meralco a 12-point lead, Asi Taulava collected 16 points and 10 rebounds and import Earl Barron finished with a game-high 34 points in leading the young franchise to its fourth win at the end of its elimination round campaign.

Cardona wound up with 19 points.

Air21 dropped its third game in a row and slipped into a tie with Rain or Shine and reigning Governors' Cup champion Petron at 3-5. The Express will now have to prevail over Barangay Ginebra in their final game to have a crack at a playoff for a quarterfinals berth.

Sol Mercado added 13 points for Meralco, but was ejected with 3:26 left in the game after incurring his second technical foul on a body bump on Jojo Duncil.

Actually, Mercado was just trying to get back at the Air21 guard for bumping teammate Chris Ross, who drew an offensive foul from Duncil because of his pesky defense. Ross was so emotional for drawing the contact that he punched the air, which got the ire of Duncil.

That reflected how important the game was for these two teams fighting to stay alive. In the end, it was the ballclub that started strong and finished stronger that took it.

The Bolts were focused from the start, jumping ahead to a 22-point lead (28-6), the biggest in the ballgame.

But as the game wore on, the Express were picking up confidence, especially when Ren-Ren Ritualo found his element from three-point territory.

What used to be a commanding advantage got chopped to within 73-60 at the end of the third period, and Ritualo slashed it down to 84-80 on a triple with 4:54 left to play.

But Meralco drew a technical foul, which Barron converted to a free throw. The Bolts import added two more free throws to kick-start a 14-4 blast highlighted by a triple from Cardona at the 3:16 mark to push the Bolts ahead at 94-82.

Douthit led Air21 with 33 points and Ritualo ended up with a personal conference-best 20. However, no other local player had scored in double figures for the Express, with Mark Isip only having four and Nelbert Omolon finishing with two. (ZM)

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