03 April 2016

Bolts 94, Enforcers 86

Cliff Hodge
Meralco coach Norman Black is not one to dwell too much on the past, especially when he's got a good thing going on right now.

The Bolts used a late switch on their offensive stance to unleash a big windup that carried them past tough Mahindra, 94-86, 3 April and closet to realizing a coveted spot in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Baser Amer scored only six points but those came off triples that was augmented by Jimmy Alapag and Cliff Hodge, resulting in a fiery 16-2 run from a 78-84 count that pointed Meralco well on its way to a second straight win.

In all, Meralco improved its record to 7-2 and now needs to win just one of its last two elimination round games against Alaska on Friday and Ginebra next Wednesday to assure itself of a top two finish and the win-once advantage in the ensuing quarterfinals.

"Big win for us, obviously, because it keeps us in first place," said Black.

The position the Bolts are in right now is a big departure from their scrambling campaign in the same mid-season tournament last season when they wound up fourth.

Black would have little to do with such memories. "Why are you guys living in the past?" he posed.

"I'm focused on what's happening right now. You never know when you can put together a very competitive team, get an import who gets along well with the locals, get locals who can play together. I think we have those ingredients right now and we do have a competitive team."

Still, Black admitted to having misgivings before and during the game.

"I was concerned about this game because we were off 16 days," explained Black, whose team's most previous outing was a 106-83 win over Blackwater last March 18. "That’s a very long time to be off a basketball court. So I was concerned about how we’d come out and play."

The loss was Mahindra's fifth in nine games, making it imperative for the Enforcers to win their last two games against Tropang TNT on Saturday and Star also next Wednesday to gain inclusion among the top eight teams advancing to the quarterfinals.

Hodge scored 25 points to lead all scorers and added 11 rebounds while Arinze Onuaku finished with 16 and 17. Chris Newsome added 15 points and Reynel Hugnatan 13.

Augustus Gilchrist led Mahindra with 20 points and 13 rebounds with Karl Dehesa, Aldrech Ramos, Mark Yee and LA Revilla each chipping in at least 10 points.

Dehesa’s corner triple gave the Enforcers their last six-point lead and Revilla’s floater kept them ahead 86-81, 3:33 to go. But their collective efforts wilted in the face of the Bolts’ withering stretch assault.

Alapag also had a triple in that decisive run and Hodge added five straight points before harassing KG Canaleta into losing the ball that led to Alapag sealing scoring with two charities, only 32 ticks left.

That surge was brought about when Black decided to deviate from his team's usual starting point of attack from Onuaku to the high screens.

"The only time we really made any headway was through the high pick-and-roll," related Black. "All my guards were able to do the same. So we totally switched our offensive philosophy from the post to attacking from the outside."

Some of Black's worries took on a more concrete form in the course of the game as Mahindra got off to an early 32-18 lead and even took a 70-60 cushion into the final canto.

"In the first half we were very rusty, especially in the first quarter," added Black. "In the second quarter we started playing better, but Mahindra played very tough, making it difficult for us scoring against their post defense. Today Mahindra did a very good job double-teaming our post players, cutting off the passing lanes."

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