The Meralco Bolts completed the PBA Governors' Cup semifinal cast with a come-from-behind 113-107 overtime victory Wednesday over the Magnolia Timplados Hotshots.
Aaron Black's desperation shot at the buzzer at the end of regulation forced overtime and capped a Bolts rally from seven points down in the last two minutes. Three consecutive Meralco triples broke the game open in overtime and set up the Bolts for a best-of-five semifinal clash with the No. 1 seed TNT Tropang Giga.
"We had to make a lot of stops at the end of the game to even be in that position because we were down maybe 10, 12 points sometime in the fourth quarter," Bolts coach Norman Black said. "We just kept our focus. Nobody got down, nobody panicked, and we just made play after play particularly on the defensive end to give ourselves a chance."
Five players scored for the Bolts in the last two minutes of regulation and in overtime as they put forth a good team effort.
"The balance is very important in that everybody gets involved offensively. KJ (McDaniels) is not the type of guy that's gonna score 45, 50 points a night," Black said. "He will give you 25 to 30, so we need the other guys to step up and contribute. Luckily for us tonight we had a lot of guys that were heroes led by [Chris] Newsome. And that's what it takes this time of the season."
Magnolia Hotshots coach Chito Victolero was gracious in defeat.
"I think Meralco deserved to win because they don't give up. They don't quit. Of course, that Hail Mary shot of Aaron. So just give credit to Meralco. We had a good game, we had a chance to win. The lesson is, it's not yet over until it's over. We have to close the game, we have to finish stronger.
"We have to be sharp and smart down the stretch. If we face an elite team like Meralco, you have to make sure you're ready to play for 48 minutes. You have to minimize the breakdowns. If not, that's what will happen."
Newsome is the difference-maker
Chris Newsome, who missed the Commissioner's Cup with a leg injury, had a magnificent stat line of 33 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists, underscoring Black's belief that they would be fine after missing the playoffs last conference once his prized guard returned.
"At the beginning of this conference we had a team meeting with the executives of Meralco," Black said. "The one thing I remember us talking about was when 'New' comes back, things are gonna change. We felt like we could win again. We've been winning in this conference for the last four, five years with this height limit. So we felt we could do it again this year. A lot of that is because Cliff Hodge matches up well with the imports. ...
Newsome said he was happy to return after missing last conference and was able to fit back in easily.
"We were familiar with KJ already and so that helped a lot with our chemistry and now it as just getting me in there, getting me back to 100% and actually contribute to the team.
"No one likes watching their team from the sidelines especially whenever they need you in big games and they're trying to make a playoff run. But now we get another shot, everybody's healthy and hopefully everybody stays healthy in this next series so we can make a good run for the finals."
Offense vs. defense in the semis
The semifinal series between the Tropang Giga and the Bolts will present an interesting clash between the top offensive team (TNT, 118.5 PPG) and the top defensive team (Meralco, 100.4 PPG)
"The one thing we do have going for us is we are the top defensive team in the league," Black said. "So something's gotta give, one way or another. But we'll just sit down and analyze what they're doing offensively and try to devise ways to be able to defend them. ... I watched them tonight against Phoenix and it looked like a fastbreak drill. So we have to get back on defense.
Black is hoping his team can stay in step with TNT's fearsome running game, especially with Game 1 of the semifinals just two days away.
"My biggest concern right now is, how do I get my guys fresh again going through this tough battle with Magnolia and then heading into this series with TNT is gonna be rough. Particularly since TNT is a run-and-gun team. They like to run down the floor, use a lot of their energy on the offensive end of the court. I think we can keep up with them. We can get out and run with them."