ANJO Caram came up with a career game, propping Meralco’s drive to a 103-89 victory over NorthPort last night and into a sure top four slot in the PBA Governors Cup quarterfinals at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.
Caram, thrust into a major role with Baser Amer hobbled by a groin injury, did not disappoint and highlighted his 30-point night with 16 in the fourth period, enabling the Bolts to stay clear of the tenacious Batang Pier and secure their fifth straight win.
“Credit to the players. They focused on the goal and they achieved it tonight,” Meralco coach Norman Black said after his team improved to 8-2 and took over second-running spot over idle TNT (7-2).
Only 7-1 NLEX, set to meet Magnolia later in the evening, has a better record but the Bolts could even pass the Road Warriors should they end the eliminations with another win against Rain or Shine next Sunday and the latter fail to get more victories.
Meralco has already beaten Ginebra and San Miguel Beer, who are still in the running for a top four finish and the twice-to-win advantage in the eight-team quarterfinals.
Allen Durham had 26 points and 19 rebounds and Chris Newsome added 17 points and seven boards.
Clearly, however, it was Caram who stole the show in this particular night by coming off the bench and making 11 of 15 shots, including four of his six rainbow tries. For good measure, the former San Beda playmaker drafted 26th overall in 2013, added four steals.
“I just wish he could do that every night because he was making shots from all over the court. He was making big shots, particularly in the second half,” noted Black.
“I’m happy for him because he works very hard in practice. He’s a guy with great attitude, comes to work every day, doesn’t complain whether he’s playing two minutes, 30 minutes. Doesn’t make any difference,” added Black.
“He always gives his best. So you have to be happy with a guy like that. You can see the response when he’s making shots. Everybody in the team is happy for him.”
The Bolts were at their happiest when Caram’s last triple capped their decisive 11-0 surge that gave them a safe 101-85 advantage, only 1:16 left.
The loss was NorthPort’s second straight, dropping it to a 3-6 slate and a tie for eighth with recent conqueror Alaska.
The Batang Pier are now left in similar must-win situations aganst NLEX on Wednesday and Ginebra on Sunday to advance outright.
Michael Qualls wound up with 27 points and 10 boards, Christian Standhardinger 20 and nine and Sean Anthony had his best game yet in the conference with 19 points on top of eight assists and four boards while anchoring the defense on Durham.
But NorthPort’s failure to sustain both its offense and defense in crucial stretches ultimately led to its downfall.