02 October 2013

Semis: Bolts 73, San Mig 69

Mario West vs SanMig
By Carlo Pamintuan, GMA News

The Meralco Bolts led from start to finish against the San Mig Coffee Mixers, leveling their 2013 PBA Govenors' Cup semifinals series at one game apiece, via a 73-69 win, Tuesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The second-seeded San Mig Coffee won game one last Sunday, 83-73, but the third-ranked Bolts managed to forge a deadlock, though their foes nearly gave them a scare late, getting to within three points with 1:15 left to play.

Game three is set for Friday (4 October 2013), also at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

It was an offensive struggle for both teams for much of the game, but the Bolts kept making baskets that kept the Mixers at bay. Rebounding from his nine-point game one performance, Mario West scored 17 points, albeit on 36 shots, and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Meralco only made 30.6 percent of their shots compared to San Mig Coffee's 38.2 percent, but the Bolts had 11 more offensive rebounds and eight less turnovers.

"We perfectly prepared for a situation like this. It was going to be a grind with both teams putting the emphasis on defense," said Meralco head coach Ryan Gregorio. "Limiting them to 69 [points], speaks of the desire we put into this game."

Jared Dillinger, the returning wing man formerly of the Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, was named the Best Player of the Game as he scored 10 points, grabbed two rebounds, and dished out four assists. He created for his teammates, while also scoring a key basket late in the fourth quarter.

"When we got Jared, we wanted him to play four positions. He was amazing today. He was making the shots and dishing out assists," Gregorio said. "It's nice to see him play with better rhythm today even if he just played three games with us."

The Meralco Bolts blitzed the San Mig Coffee Mixers to get a 7-0 lead early in the game. The Mixers finally got on the board after a three from Alex Mallari, but Mario West scored his second basket of the game for a 9-3 Meralco lead.

The Mixers continued to struggle on both sides of the court in the next minutes. They committed nine early turnovers while allowing the Bolts multiple looks at the basket with seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter alone. A put-back from Reynel Hugnatan gave Meralco a 15-6 lead with 3:13 left in the first. The Bolts then established a double-digit lead, 17-6, as Cliff Hodge to got his own miss after a missed free throw, leading to a basket from Jared Dillinger.

After an excellent first quarter, the Bolts held a 19-8 advantage heading into the second.

"Both teams really love to play defense. It will favor us if it's a low-scoring game because they have a better offensive arsenal," Gregorio said. "They came out flat. They didn't have the legs today," he added, as the Mixers only scored eight points in the opening quarter on an atrocious 16.7 percent shooting clip from the field.

With nothing working for San Mig Coffee, head coach Tim Cone changed things up by inserting center Yancy De Ocampo in the second quarter. The Mixers responded and displayed better form, as a triple from Mark Barroca at the 8:44 mark got them to within seven at 23-16. Baskets from the seldom-used Leo Najorda and De Ocampo trimmed their deficit down to three at 23-20. A fast break basket from Rafi Reavis then got the Mixers to within a point, but the Bolts countered with a 5-0 run to lead 28-22.

Cone then dug deeper from his bench by inserting Jerwin Gaco. The bruiser dished out two assists to De Ocampo to trim the Meralco lead down to a single point at 31-30. Mario West ended the second quarter though by completing an and-one play to keep Meralco up, 34-30 at the half.

“I think 39 free throws is still too much. We were also aggressive but we weren’t getting the same calls,” Gregorio lamented after the game. “Good thing 26 of those free throws went to Blakely and it stymied their offense.”

Baskets came few and far between at the start of the second half as the two teams only combined for six points in the first four minutes of the third canto. Hugnatan was then left unchecked at the 7:49 mark to give Meralco a 40-32 lead and force a San Mig Coffee timeout.

Three free throws from Hodge gave the Bolts another double-digit lead at 43-33 with 6:11 left in the third. Blakely finally made his first field goal of the match at the 4:49 mark to cut Meralco's lead down to four at 43-39. The Mixers got it further down to just two points, but they couldn't break out a run to put them on top

Free throws from Hugnatan gave Meralco a six-point lead, which was stretched to nine by Jared Dillinger after an and-one play. Blakely however ended the quarter with a three, though the score was 56-50 still in Meralco's favor.

Reynel Hugnatan (R) draws the attention of Marqus Blakely and Alex Mallari. Nuki Sabio
Blakely went to work early in the fourth quarter, but Meralco kept its lead thanks to Dillinger's play. The former Tropang Texter banked in a basket at the 10:07 mark of the fourth to give the Bolts a 63-55 lead.

The Bolts led 65-52 when the Mixers unleashed a 9-0 run from James Yap and Blakely to trim the lead to one. Hodge finally stopped the bleeding with a layup at the 6:16 mark for a 67-64 count in their favor.

With 2:28 left in the game, Yap stepped to the line to make two free throws to cut Meralco's lead down to two points. West however responded by banking in a basket on the other end. The Mixers only managed a single free throw from that point on.

Reynel Hugnatan again played big for the Bolts as he scored 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. Like in game one, Hodge also played well with 12 points and nine rebounds. Mike Cortez failed to score in 32 minutes on the floor, but Dillinger stepped up to play point on the Cool Cat’s behalf.

Blakely led the Mixers with 24 points after scoring only three in the first half. Yap added 13, while De Ocampo scored 10 points off the bench.

"It was my mistake on [sic] game one,” admitted Gregorio. "We paid so much attention of [sic] James, PJ, and Ping, but yesterday I told the players that we need to pay respect to every player in that team."

The Mixers got nothing from Joe Devance and Marc Pingris, who played a combined 55 minutes. The San Mig Coffee guards also struggled as Alex Mallari, Mark Barroca, and PJ Simon only combined for 11 points in the game.

"Towards the end we needed stops and we were able to get these to preserve our victory," Gregorio said in closing. "It's now down to a best of three series and it's only get harder from now on."

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