31 March 2012

Bolts 102, Tigers 98

Earl Barron
Earl Barron delivered 33 points and grabbed 18 rebounds Friday night (30 March 2012), hitting two free throws in the closing seconds that completed a resurrection of sorts for the Meralco Bolts in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup.

The Bolts nearly blew a 13-point third quarter advantage but hung on to eliminate the Tigers, 102-98, to catch the last bus to the quarterfinals, cramming themselves into the only available playoff space left.

They will face the loser of the Barangay Ginebra-B-Meg playoff in a three-game mini-series starting
Sunday at the Smart-Araneta Coliseum.

"We came prepared for a one-possession finish," said Bolts coach Ryan Gregorio when asked whether he was surprised at the Tigers’ tenacity even after they fell behind by double digits early in the second half.

"I knew we'd need to hit free throws and make defensive stops down the stretch. We weren't going to roll over and die," Gregorio said.

A three-point shot by Marcio Lassiter, who took over from the hounded Gary David, cut Meralco's lead to 100-98 with 12.2 seconds remaining. Powerade then gave up a foul on Barron who made them pay five seconds later.

Barron, who had an 11 of 23 shooting from the field and was 8 of 13 from the line at that point, canned two more foul shots to seal the outcome.

The Bolts were given five missions to accomplish, foremost of which was to "extinguish the fiery hands of Gary David," a task easier said than done.

Three men, basically, alternated on the Powerade fireball – Mark Macapagal, Sol Mercado and Mac Cardona – and the result was revealing: 11 of 14 missed 3-point attempts and 8 of 10 bricks from within the arc for David.

Meralco, which led by as many as 13 points in the third quarter after using a 12-0 run from 49-all, completed a resurrection of sorts from 1-4, winning four of its last five games in the sprint elimination round, including Friday night’s do-or-die encounter.

"We had so many chances to die, pack our things and go home," said Gregorio.

Instead the Bolts hung around for a playoff dance.

"Now we can dream some more, climb up the ladder even," Gregorio said, whose team made it to the quarterfinals of an import-laden conference for the first time in three conferences.

The Bolts emerged from the swirling dust of a first quarter driven at a frenetic pace with a 23-16 lead.

Devoid of organized offense and relying mostly on frenzied run-and-gun plays, both teams raced through the opening 12 minutes with little thought on defense. Meralco used two scoring spurt, one an 11-4 run and another a 7-0 spell which extended into the second quarter to take a 27-16 lead.

Barron, doing everything offensively, had 12 points in a hurry, mauling Powerade counterpart Jones who was 3 of 9 in the first period.

But the Tigers never ceased to threaten, and in the second quarter, with Barron apparently tiring from a do-it-all start and Lassiter and David hitting their stride, Powerade struck for eight straight points to raze a single digit deficit to thrice gain the upperhand before settling for a one-possession disadvantage, 45-43, at the half.

So pumped up were both teams that the anxiety level spilled over to the coaching staff as head mentors Ryan Gregorio of Meralco and Bo Perasol of Powerade, both former University of the Philippines Fighting Maroons, set aside their collegiate colors and verbally went at each other. (TST)

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