04 October 2016

Bolts 94, KaTropa 88

Cliff Hodge
Cliff Hodge had the game of his life and Meralco sealed its first ever finals appearance after knocking off top seed TNT, 94-88, in Game 4 of their best-of-five semifinals series in the 2016 PBA Governors’ Cup at Smart Araneta Coliseum last 3 October 2016.

Hodge set a career-high 32 points, including a dagger of a 3-pointer, as the Bolts will march into the championship round for the first time since coming into the league in 2010.

"What a game by Cliff Hodge. He was unbelievable," said Meralco head coach Norman Black.

"Before the game, I was getting a lot of 3s up and my shot felt really good, so I knew it was gonna be a good game," Hodge recalled. "I just had to stay composed, stay calm and knock them down."

Hodge said his hunger drove him to be at his best and the absence of his veteran teammate Jared Dillinger pushed him to have the kind of game he needed to provide to fill the hole.

"It’s been four years. I know that last conference we had a chance to get there," said Hodge, referring to the Bolts’ heartbreaking semifinals exit at hands of the Alaska Aces in the Commissioner’s Cup. "I was just super hungry, and I knew that with JD down, someone had to step up, and I just tried to step up as much as possible."

"For me it's about being the best player for my team and helping these guys out, and trying to win as many games as possible. I'm still kind of speechless with what happened tonight, it’s amazing."

Allen Durham, Game 3 hero Reynel Hugnatan and Chris Newsome did their part for the Bolts as they wrapped up the best-of-five series in just four games and realized a first-ever championship stint since joining the league in 2011.

The Bolts will next take on the winner of the other semifinal pairing between Barangay Ginebra and San Miguel Beer, set to be decided Tuesday, in the best-of-seven championship series set to start on 7 October.

At the same time, Meralco became the first PBA team in 15 years to finish dead-last in the season-opening Philippine Cup and advance to the season-ending tourney’s finals since Sta. Lucia Realty in 2001, also with now Bolts coach Norman Black at the helm. The Realtors won that one for their first-ever title.

"We’ve come a long way since the first conference," said Black, who is now eyeing a 12th PBA title in this his 18th finals appearance as a coach.

"It’s not over yet, but I can’t be more proud of my players and am happy for the Meralco community."

It was all about team effort, added Black.

"We knew coming into this series that individually we’re not as strong as Talk N Text, but we really focused on trying to being a team and focusing on doing whatever we have to do to win."

It was a sad ending for TNT, which topped the eliminations, took just one game to finish off Phoenix in the quarterfinals and seemed well on its way after a 113-95 win in the series opener.

But Meralco, which came into the playoffs as the fourth-ranked team, bounced back through its more balanced all-around play.

Unwittingly helping the Bolts' cause was Texters star Jayson Castro, who was tossed for a second flagrant foul-penalty one against Newsome with still 2:20 to play. He was slapped with the same penalty in the first quarter, also against Newsome.

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