Meralco keeps lights on


MERALCO refused to turn the power off on Wednesday night and with a 102-98 Game 5 victory over Magnolia, the Bolts stayed alive in their best-of-seven semifinals series in the Philippine Basketball Association Philippine Cup at the Don Honorio Ventura State University gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.

Gunner Allein Maliksi and stocky playmaker Nards Pinto provided the jolt for the Bolts, who narrowed their series deficit to the Hotshots at 3-2.

“We had our backs against the wall so we gave it our best,” Maliksi said. “I really needed to step up in a do-or-die situation and set a good example as a veteran of this team.”

Maliksi averaged 5.25 points in the first four games of the series but erupted when the Bolts needed him most by firing a playoff career-high 29 points on a near perfect 7-of-8 shooting from beyond the three-point arc.

Pinto, meanwhile, didn’t let the semifinals door shut down on the Bolts and came up with a career-high 24 points and five assists.

Maliksi nailed three free throws and back-to-back three-pointers in a pivotal 9-3 assault that saw the Bolts break loose from a 90-all count to a 99-93 lead with only one minute and 21 seconds left.

Calvin Abueva buried a trey and completed an alley-oop to keep the Hotshots in the game, 98-100.

Raymond Almazan then converted two free throws off Paul Lee’s foul to give Meralco a four-point breather with seven seconds left.

Jio Jalalon’s running desperate three-pointer was short as the buzzer sounded.

“It’s a great gutsy performance from my players because we fought Magnolia on a good night,”  Meralco Coach Norman Black said. “They really played well and they wanted to eliminate us, but we stood our ground.”

“We made some big shots down the stretch, kept our composure and gave ourselves a chance to get back on the series,” Black added.

The Bolts stared at a 19-30 deficit in the first quarter but came back strong in the second period with Maliksi erupting with 10 points in a 22-14 run for as the Hotshots precariousy held on to a  47-45 advantage.

Pinto scored 10 points in the third quarter as the Bolts trailed but kept the Hotshots within striking distance, 69-71.

Chris Newsome scattered 23 points, got five rebounds and dished out six assists while Almazan, who missed Game 4 due to a sprained left ankle, had 10 rebounds, nine points and two assists for the Bolts.

Mark Andy Barroca led Magnolia with 25 points and Abueva tallied 19 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Ian Sangalang finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds.

The Bolts try again to end the series in Game 6 at 6 p.m. on Friday. Magnolia is eyeing a 17th Philippine Cup and 30th overall championship appearance.

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