MERALCO translated its sense of urgency into game and beat Magnolia Ang Pambansang Manok 91-86 Friday in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal duel at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Chris Newsome delivered the final nail in the Hotshots' coffin, but the likes of Nards Pinto and Noy Baclao came up with sterling efforts that enabled the Bolts to overcome their manpower problems and narrow their deficit in the best-of-seven series at 1-2.
Pinto emerged as main backstop to Newsome's 17 points with 16 points of his own while Baclao finished with 10 points as they helped Meralco buck the absence of the injured Raymond Almazan and Aaron Black, as well as Trevis Jackson and Jammer Jamito, both currently going through the league's health and safety protocols.
Cliff Hodge also hogged his share of the limelight with a game-high 12 rebounds aside from five of his seven points coming in the payoff period that helped keep Magnolia at bay.
"I think we just played with a big heart tonight," said Meralco coach Norman Black.
"We're struggling a little bit because of lack of manpower. It hurts us a little bit as far as depth is concerned. We looked at this game as a do-or-die game. We treated it like there's no tomorrow for us."
"Sabi lang ni coach kailangan naming mag-regroup saka kailangan naming parang buwis-buhay game naming ngayon kasi mahirap na pag na-0-3 kami," related Pinto, who went into the game averaging just 6.8 points but still took the time to score despite having to try and contain Paul Lee.
Those efforts and a 21-point 75-54 fourth quarter lead almost weren't enough as Magnolia came charging back, surprisingly with Lee and fellow Hotshots pillars Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva on the bench.
Rookie Jerrick Ahanmisi and sophomore Aris Dionisio, along with Jackson Corpuz and Jio Jalalon were at the forefront of that fierce fightback that trimmed the deficit to just 72-77.
When coach Chito Victolero fielded his stars back in, the difference even got closer at 86-89 following Lee's three-point play and Rafi Reavis' putback, still 28 seconds left.
But Newsome proved up to the pressure by hitting the 16-foot jumper that made it a five-point game that stood up inside the last six seconds.
As he did in Magnolia's 92-78 win in Game 2 Lee again led the team with 18 points while Sangalang added 15 points and seven rebounds. Abueva had 12 and seven with Rome dela Rosa the only other Hotshot in double digits with 10 markers.
Magnolia made the first shot of the game but missed its next 12 tries, right there giving Meralco the momentum it would rarely let go of for the rest of the game. (NC)
Meralco 91 - Newsome 17, Pinto 16, Belo 14, Baclao 10, Maliksi 9, Caram 8, Quinto 8, Hodge 7, Hugnatan 2, Black 0, Jackson 0, Jose 0, Almazan 0, Pasaol 0.
Magnolia 86 - Lee 18, Sangalang 15, Abueva 12, Dela Rosa 10, Jalalaon 9, Ahanmisi 8, Dionisio 8, Corpuz 2, Barroca 2, Reavis 2, Brill 0, Melton 0, De Leon 0, Capobres 0, Pascual 0.
Quarters:24-14, 47-37, 73-54, 91-86