17 April 2017

Bolts 102, Blackwater 91

Meralco Hustle
Alex Stepheson was already doing his part of the defensive job for Meralco.

Then Kelly Nabong stood out the most on the other end of the floor and the Bolts collectively took the cue to run away with a 102-91 victory over Blackwater last 15 April in the PBA Commissioner's Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

Stepheson did a sterling job stifling the Elite's primary source of points in Greg Smith and Nabong surprised everyone with a fourth quarter explosion that enabled Meralco to win the fourth quarter, 30-11.

As a result, the Bolts notched their second straight win and sixth in seven games that practically assured them of at least a tie for one of the eight spots in the quarterfinals following the 11-game eliminations.

"In the past, six wins will get you to the quarters," noted Meralco coach Norman Black. "I don't think that's particularly true in this case because the other games have to be played out. But I know in the past six wins is the magic number."

The Bolts have a long break before their next game on May 3 to see how that plays out, enough time to savor their all-around efforts, especially on the defensive end, against the Elite.

"It's nice to rely on your defense to win games because we all know that offense is up and down," said Black. "You never know when your shot is going to go in."

The offense also kicked in for the Bolts as Dillinger led a balanced attack with 21 points with Stepheson adding 18 and 15 rebounds, Chris Newsome 14 markers and Baser Amer 12.

Nabong chipped in a personal conference-high 13 points, including 11 in the fourth period while leading a decisive 17-6 charge from a 72-80 count that gave Meralco the upper hand for good.

Blackwater was led by Smith's 19 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists with Mike Digregorio adding 16 points and KG Canaleta 14, his best in an Elite uniform.

But while Smith was being stifled to just two fourth quarter points, Blackwater's local players failed to deliver on a consistent basis as the team dropped to a 1-5 record overall.

"In the second half we did a much better job of keeping Alex matched up with Smith instead of having a local on him all the time, particularly in the endgame," said Black.

The finish was a far cry from what was expected after Blackwater seemed to have taken full control in the third quarter.

Canaleta was the hottest player on the court in the penultimate period when he went 5-for-5 from the floor for all 14 of his points and Smith scraping together six of his own.

When James Sena beat the buzzer with a long triple, the Elite had an 80-72 lead and, seemingly, momentum.

It turned out Meralco had other plans.

Smith and Stepheson practically canceled each other out in the early goings, thereby giving some of their local teammates the time to shine.

Digregorio and Kyle Pascual did not disappoint for Blackwater, combining for 19 points and helping the Elite take as much as a 40-31 lead.

Primarily joining hands with Stepheson were Amer, Dillinger and Hugnatan, enabling the Bolts to trim the deficit to just 44-48 at the break.

Meralco actually led by 13-5 early, but Smith started waxing hot starting at the final minute mark of the opening quarter with six straight points to put Blackwater in charge 24-22.

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