By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE Meralco Bolts officially claimed the second seed in the playoffs of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup after defeating the NLEX Road Warriors, 104-101, in league action on Wednesday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University (DHVSU) Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Needing only one win from its scheduled two matches in the final week of elimination play to secure number two, Meralco did not waste time and claimed it at the first instance, bagging in the process the twice-to-beat advantage in the quarterfinals of the ongoing Philippine Basketball Association tournament.
The Bolts were on top of things for much of the game, riding on a balanced attack, but had to dig deep in the end to survive NLEX’s spirited comeback.
They opened the first five minutes of the contest building an 18-7 cushion which they used to claim the opening quarter, 30-20.
In the second half, NLEX tried to compete on a better footing on the lead of rookie Calvin Oftana, who scored 11 points in the frame, boosted by three triples.
But Meralco had collective answers to the charge back of the Road Warriors, continuing to hold sway at the break, 65-54.
In the third canto, the Bolts showed no letup, still safely ahead, 75-62, by the 6:41 mark.
Meralco extended their lead to 20 points, 85-65, with three minutes to go in the quarter before settling for a 15-point advantage, 89-74, heading into the final frame.
Things got chippy in the early goings of the fourth quarter when NLEX forward Anthony Semerad and Meralco guard Chris Newsome got into a shoving match and ball-throwing incident, which resulted in the latter being tossed out.
When play resumed, the Road Warriors tried to rally back but with little success.
The count stood at 101-82, in favor of the Bolts, with seven minutes to play.
But Mr. Oftana and NLEX managed to reduce the gap to just two points, 103-101, with two seconds left but never got any closer after.
Allein Maliksi led the Bolts in the win with 22 points, going 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Rookie Alvin Pasaol had 17 while Mac Belo had 16 points.
“This is the game we wanted to get because we know playing back to back the players may be tired. So the players really played hard to get the win and for us to focus on our game against Ginebra tomorrow and the playoffs after,” said Meralco coach Norman Black after the game, referring to their scheduled match with defending champions Barangay Ginebra San Miguel King on Thursday.
Meralco now has an 8-3 record, tied with the Magnolia Hotshots Pambansang Manok, with one game left to play. But even if it loses to Barangay Ginebra, it still gets the second seed, having beaten Magnolia in the eliminations.
For NLEX (5-6), it was Mr. Oftana who led with a career-high 34 points, going 8-of-11 from three-point land. Raul Soyud and JR Quinahan added 14 and 13 points, respectively.
Despite the loss, the Road Warriors are still through to the quarterfinals but have to wait for the results of the matches on the final day of the eliminations on Thursday to find out where they end up in the standings.