SMART Clark Giga City - The Meralco Bolts made it 3-of-3 in knockout games in the PBA Philippine Cup playoffs, extending their stay in the bubble with an 83-80 decision over the Barangay Ginebra Kings Wednesday night.
Reynel Hugnatan capped a 19-point game with a huge long two then Raymond Almazan came off the bench and blocked Stanley Pringle's make-or-break shot as the Bolts foiled the Kings' series closeout bid and forced a rubber in their best-of-five semifinals faceoff.
The two teams clash in the deciding Game Five at the Smart 5G-powered AUF Sports Center Friday.
"The challenge going to the next game is to be a little ahead of them. So far, we've always been reacting," said coach Norman Black, hoping they can repeat the same feat done versus fourth seed San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals.
"Just like in our battle with San Miguel, we have to win two games to move to the next stage. We're halfway through," Black said.
The Bolts showed resilience and fortitude, and once again banked on their no-quit spirit as they stayed alive and gave themselves a shot at the all-Filipino finals.
Hugnatan, Almazan, Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge all delivered twin-digit outputs, with Nards Pinto, Allein Maliksi and Aaron Black putting in crucial help as they once again struck back against the top seeds.
"We had a lot of guys coming in and playing their roles. As long as our guys can play their roles, we'll have a chance," said Black.
Pinto saw action for 18 minutes and had his biggest contribution on his defensive gem that gave them possession while trailing by one in the last 20 seconds.
From a timeout, the Bolts ran a play that had Newsome feeding Hugnatan for a long twinner that shoved them ahead at 81-80.
"Kay Newsome yung play, kaso na-cover siya, at nung pinasa sa akin ang bola, wala na akong inisip, at sa awa ng Diyos pumasok," said Hugnatan.
Almazan preserved Hugnatan's heroics with his own heroics, foiling a well-run Ginebra play in the ensuing sequence.
"That was a huge block by Raymond. He's really our inside defender, the guy we count on as our last line of defense," said Black.
The Bolts actually dominated the first half, largely behind a defensive effort that saw only five Ginebra players put up points.
Held scoreless in the first two quarters, LA Tenorio and Japeth Aguilar came to life in the second half, helping fuel a big Ginebra onslaught that got them into the fight. (SB)
MERALCO 83 - Hugnatan 19, Hodge 16, Newsome 16, Almazan 11, Maliksi 8, Amer 4, Pinto 3, Black 2, Quinto 2, Jamito 2, Jackson 0.
GINEBRA 80 - Pringle 18, Dillinger 15, Thompson 13, Aguilar 12, Tenorio 8, Caperal 8, Mariano 6, Tolentino 0, Devance 0.
Quarters: 26-21; 44-31; 60-64; 83-80.