MERALCO turned its desperation into a tough stand and eked out an 83-80 win over Ginebra last night to force a deciding game in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Gym in Angeles City.
Reynel Hugnatan capped his team-high 19 points with a long twinner that pushed the Bolts ahead 81-80 and Raymond Almazan preserved the lead by foiling Stanley Pringle’s drive.
Chris Newsome put an exclamation mark to his double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds with a fastbreak layup that made it a three-point game and the count stood when LA Tenorio’s desperate buzzer-beating heave failed to find its mark.
Meralco tied the best-of-five matchup at two games apiece and forced a rubber match tomorrow.
“That was huge defensive play for us,” Bolts coach Norman Black said of Almazan’s block.
“It gave us a chance to tie the series at 2-2 and of course possibly win Game 5 and go on to the finals.”
Black also lauded the way Newsome and Hugnatan carried out the play he drew up in his last timeout.
“Newsome was supposed to come off a Reynel screen and if he was open he was to take it.
If he was not open, he was to look for Reynel,” related Black. “We executed it well but of course we still have to make the shot and that was an easy shot for Reynel.”
While Meralco displayed poise despite blowing as much as a 15-point third quarter lead Ginebra could not in a game that featured nine deadlocks and 13 lead changes.
Leading up to Hugnatan’s shot was Tenorio sliding out of bounds and turning the ball over against John Pinto’s pressure defense.
Japeth Aguilar was also called for a three-second violation although he did make up for that with a jumper that gave the Kings an 80-79 edge.
All those added up to seven of the 23 total turnovers for Ginebra, helping stoke Meralco’s charge from a 68-70 deficit led by Newsome.
Cliff Hodge also scored 16 points for Meralco while Almazan, despite being jarred by a hit from Aguilar in the last 4:55 of the game, wound up with 11 markers.
Despite going scoreless in the fourth period and just five points in the entire second half Pringle still led Ginebra with 18 points, with Jared Dillinger adding a personal conference-high 15 points, 10 coming in the third period when the Kings came charging back to post as much as a 58-52 lead.