25 March 2014

Bolts 109, Express 98

Bolts vs Express
The Meralco Bolts rallied back from a 20-point deficit, and used a three-point barrage to beat the Air21 Express and their new import, 109-98, in the 2014 PBA Commissioner's Cup, on Sunday (23 March 2014) at the SMART-Araneta Coliseum.

Brian Butch put up a massive 40-point, 31-rebound performance, and was responsible for triggering Meralco's fourth quarter comeback. Jared Dillinger added 20 points and eight assists. John Wilson had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and Gary David scattered 11 points.

Meralco weathered a masterful scoring display from Wesley Witherspoon, the Express' new import, who lit them up from beyond the arc. But after putting up 28 points in the first half, Witherspoon had just five points as Air21 crumbled down the stretch.

"I haven't seen anything like it," said coach Ryan Gregorio about Witherspoon's explosion. "And it's a good thing our special defense in the fourth quarter slowed him down a little bit." That was an understatement from Gregorio, as their defense held Air21 to just one field goal in the last 7:12.

Butch, who himself has been the subject of replacement rumors, graciously deferred credit to the rest of the team. "I'm an import, there's always pressure. That's just how it is. For me, it was another game," he said.

"JD took over for us in the fourth quarter; JD won us that game," said Butch. "All the credit goes to our guards who made plays and our coaches who put us in a position to win."

"The one thing that was the overriding thing in all of this was we all believed in the other and wanted it for each other," Butch added, adding that he's formed a bond with the rest of the Bolts in his three weeks in the country. "We played for each other and made the extra pass for each other and that's why we won the game."

Regarding Butch's status, Gregorio declined to comment and simply said replacing Butch, after his "unheard of" performance for the books, was not an easy decision to make.

The Bolts (3-2) have won three of their last four games and improved to solo fourth place. The Express (2-3) absorbed their second straight defeat and tied Alaska at sixth.

Wesley Witherspoon, the Express' new import, started strong and scored 10 points early to build a 14-5 Express lead. But their offense disappeared when he and Asi Taulava went to the bench due to foul trouble, and the Bolts scrapped their way back into contention. Scoring either off putbacks or free throws, Meralco rallied around Brian Butch and posted a 25-18 lead after the first.

The Bolts led by eight early in the second, 30-22, but had no answer for Witherspoon's game. Witherspoon attacked off the dribble and shot from deep, dropping another cool 18 points during a 25-8 Express rally. Meralco also struggled to contain Mac Cardona on the drive, and fell behind 53-42 after two quarters.

Meralco were slow to warm up in the third and fell by as much as 17 points, 67-50, as the Express continued their hot shooting streak. The Bolts got some layups midway through the quarter to revive the offense, but Witherspoon's strong play gave the Express' locals some much-needed confidence. Air21 kept the lead upwards of 10 points, as Cardona and Jonas Villanueva pushed the lead to 86-68 lead heading into the final period.

Unexpectedly, The Bolts caught fire in the fourth quarter. Butch hit his first three pointer to begin the fourth, and rained four more triples as Meralco rapidly ate into the lead. Butch outscored the entire Express five, 16-12, to narrow the game to one, 98-97. With two and a half minutes left, Jared Dillinger scooped in a layup to give the Bolts their first lead of the game.

The Express had been misfiring for most of the quarter, and it didn't help that John Wilson secured a missed Butch trey to give them an extra possession with a minute left. The possession turned into a Dillinger jumper, then an inbounds steal for another driving layup for Dillinger, 104-98. Joseph Yeo missed a triple on the following Express possession, forcing them to foul the Bolts for time. Meralco obliged from the line, completing a 26-2 comeback in the last seven minutes to steal the game.

The Bolts shot 39-of-85 (45.9 percent) from the floor, while Air21 went 33-of-83 (39.8 percent). Meralco led in second chance points, 25-6, leading 20-13 on the offensive glass and 58-44 overall.

Wesley Witherspoon put up 44 points, making 8-of-13 three-pointers to go with nine rebounds. Mac Cardona added 22 points while Asi Taulava chipped in 11 points and nine rebounds. - RAF, GMA News

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