Meralco sent defending champion Barangay Ginebra into a do-or-die game for the last quarterfinal slot after capping off its own 2021 PBA Philippine Cup elimination round campaign with a 79-66 wire-to-wire win on Thursday at the DHVSU Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
The second-seeded Bolts led by as many as 19, overcame a strong third quarter surge from the Gin Kings, and pulled away in the final period to make sure they enter the quarterfinals riding a four-game winning streak.
Ginebra, meanwhile, was handed a lifeline after a win by NorthPort against Alaska set up the Gin Kings for a knockout match for the eighth seed against the Phoenix Fuel Masters. A Batang Pier loss would have eliminated Ginebra outright.
Mac Belo and Alvin Pasaol both scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Bolts, who already locked up the twice-to-beat advantage in Wednesday's win over NLEX, but still came out firing on all cylinders facing their new-age rivals.
Head coach Norman Black, though, said there was nothing personal about their triumph over the same Ginebra squad that had beat them three times in the finals over the last five seasons.
"We just wanted to win the game," quipped Black. "It's a game that just happened to be at the end of this conference and we wanted to go into the playoffs with some momentum. We did not want to go into the playoffs with a loss. It just happened that Ginebra was our opponent tonight."
"It was nice to see that our defense stepped up and played much better tonight because we're going to need that down the stretch," he added.
Meralco rolled to a 10-0 start and forced the Gin Kings to miss their first seven shots, setting the tone for a first quarter showing that saw the Bolts grab a 23-15 lead thanks to nine quick points from Pasaol.
The former University of the East star then conspired in the second quarter with Belo, who scored eight during that frame and hit a jumper to push the gap to 19, 47-28, with over a minute left before halftime.
Ginebra, though, threatened to turn the game around in the third quarter, where a suffocating defense held Meralco to just eight points on 3-of-18 shooting to cut the deficit to just four, 51-55, entering the final frame.
Fortunately for Black and his wards, who were playing the second of a back-to-back, they still had more than enough fuel to gain separation thanks to a deeper bench.
An Anjo Caram fastbreak finish off a steal restored the lead to double-digits, 63-53, early in the fourth, before a left wing triple from Chris Newsome hiked the advantage to 13, 71-58 with 4:21 left.
Both teams exchanged baskets over the next minute and a half, but the Bolts held steady and pulled away, even padding their edge back to 16 after six straight points from Jammer Jamito for a score of 79-63 with 2:25 left.
Newsome wound up with 10 markers, nine boards, and six assists for Meralco, which got additional contributions from Bong Quinto (eight points, nine rebounds, eight assists), Jamito (seven and nine boards), and Raymond Almazan (six points, 10 boards, two blocks).
"A lot of guys stepped up. Allein [Maliksi] was here, Mac was here tonight, other guys have stepped up and become the best player, like Anjo Caram. So it's just the next man up as far as we're concerned," commented Black. "We don't know who the star of the game might be, but everybody supports everybody, and whoever has a good night and leads us, we're happy for that."
The Bolts now turn their attention to the seventh-seeded NLEX Road Warriors in the first round of the playoffs. They need just one win to advance to the semifinals.
"We just had a tough game against NLEX just yesterday so we know that's going to be tough. That's not going to be easy," noted Black. "That was one of the reasons why we really wanted to battle for the twice-to-beat advantage, but of course we'll go into that series wanting to win the first game."
On the other hand, three players logged 40 minutes each for Barangay Ginebra in the sorry loss.
Stanley Pringle led the Gin Kings with 19, while Christian Standhardinger finished with 17 points and 14 boards but shot 8-for-21 from the field. LA Tenorio was the only other player to log double-digit scoring with 11, as they clearly missed Scottie Thompson (health and safety protocols) and Japeth Aguilar (MCL sprain).
Meralco 79 - Belo 15, Pasaol 15, Newsome 10, Quinto 8, Maliksi 7, Jamito 7, Almazan 6, Caram 4, Hodge 3, Baclao 2, Pinto 2, Jackson 0.
Barangay Ginebra 66 - Pringle 19, Standhardinger 17, Tenorio 11, Chan 7, Mariano 6, Devance 4, Dillinger 2, Enriquez 0, R. Aguilar 0, Holmqvist 0.
Quarters: 23-15, 47-32, 55-51, 79-66.
- Barangay Ginebra only attempted five free throws - all courtesy of Standhardinger, who hit just one of his freebies.
- Meralco got a lot of second chance points (23-7 advantage) after massively outrebounding the Gin Kings 63-36.
- Meralco (2) vs. NLEX (7) in the quarterfinals; schedule to be determined next week