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Bolts strike back: Meralco's fast start against San Miguel Beermen paves way for Game 2 win in PBA Philippine Cup semifinal

A dominant 34-20 first quarter and a last-quarter charge helped Meralco Bolts level their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal against San Miguel Beermen with a 99-88 Game 2 win on Friday. PBA Media Bureau

Lightning did bit strike twice for Meralco Bolts after they bounced back from a humiliating Game 1 beatdown to top San Miguel Beermen, 99-88, in Game 2 on Friday and level their 2022 PBA Philippine Cup semifinal best-of-seven series at 1-1.

After giving up 121 points and trailing all the way in a 24-point loss last Wednesday, this time the Bolts held the Beermen to 16 points below their league-leading 104.8 per game average.

With the series evenly poised once more, here's three quick thoughts on Meralco's impressive win.

Black is back

Bolts coach Norman Black returned to the sidelines after spending a month in the United States to attend to his ailing mother, who eventually passed away while he was there.

"I just arrived at 12 midnight yesterday," Black revealed. "I just had to adjust very quickly to what's going on right now.

"I took a look at the last game and tried to make some adjustments for this game. I'll do the same thing moving forward."

Meralco went 5-2 while Black was away, with assistant coach Luigi Trillo taking over.

"I thank Luigi Trillo and the other coaches for holding the fort while I was gone," Black said. "I actually witnessed my mother pass while I was home so that was a pretty poignant experience for me.

"But at the same time, the team, they really stuck together. The players played together, the coaches worked together and try to come up with game plans and put us in a situation where we still have a chance to move forward.

"I'm very thankful to the entire team, particularly management because they allowed me to go home for a month."

Even while he was in Maryland, Black said he didn't miss a single Bolts game, revealing: "I watched all of them -- 3 o'clock in the morning, 5 o'clock in the morning -- I watched every game."

Hot start does wonders for Bolts

Unlike in Game 1, where San Miguel scored the first eight points and never looked back, Meralco took control early this time, taking a 34-20 lead after one quarter behind a balanced offensive attack that saw four Bolts score at least six points each.

The Beermen struck back in the second after switching to a zone defense, but the Bolts held serve in the second half.

"Total team effort for us," said Aaron Black, who had 15 points. "San Miguel is a really tough team. We really had to do it as a unit.

"We were looking to bounce back because we got embarrassed in the first game. That's not the way Meralco plays. We know that San Miguel's gonna come out next game prepared and ready to go so we have to match that.

"I think just not wanting to go down 2-0 especially against a team like San Miguel, that's a tough hill to climb. So we really wanted to even the series and play our best and bring the momentum to the next game."

Aaron's dad was also impressed with the team's balanced offense, where five players scored in double digits.

"It's something that we always preach, about wanting to get 25, 26 assists per game (they actually had 17). And wanting to get everyone involved in the offense.

"Our team's offense has been pretty good this year. Today was a good example of that. We just have to continue to do that. If we can be unpredictable in how we're gonna score, it will be more difficult to stop us."

One of the players who stepped up was back-up big man Raymar 'Toto' Jose, who put up 13 points in 19 minutes while taking his turn defending June Mar Fajardo.

"Really, for the entire conference, actually, Toto has been big for us," Norman Black said. "I invested in playing him in the middle of the conference and it's really paying off right now. He's an Energizer Bunny. He's out there all the time moving and he's very active on the floor. He doesn't back down from anybody. He's always been great defensive but today he gave us some offense."

Looking ahead to Game 3

After avoiding a 0-2 hole, the Bolts now train their sights on Game 3 and possibly taking the lead for the first time in the series.

A big part of their game plan will be trying to stop Fajardo, who managed to foul out two Bolts defenders on his way to a 22-point, 17-rebound output.

"That's a problem, that's a very big problem," Norman Black admitted. "He's just so big and talented that he's very difficult to stop.

"Today it took about four or five of my guys to be able to just battle with him. We just gotta go out there and scrap.

"That's all we can do at this point. I wish I had June Mar Fajardo but I don't. So we just have to find a way to at least slow him down.

"Looking forward, the good thing is nobody got hurt tonight. That's always something you for in a long series. If you can get out of each game healthy, it's gonna be something really important coming into the next game."

Black is already anticipating what his counterpart, Leo Austria, will do to regain the upper hand in the series.

"Leo and I have a long history dating back to his Adamson days and my Ateneo days so I'll have to study what he did today and try to combat that for the next game," he explained.

"At the same time, we have to do something about our zone offense because that's what got them back into the game. We had the game under control until they went zone.

"We struggled against their zone. We'll work on that tomorrow in practice and try to be better in our next game."