Meralco closed in on finally ending years of misery in the PBA Philippine Cup by holding off Rain or Shine, 85-78, Thursday night at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
The Bolts broke loose in the third quarter, building a 23-point lead, before overcoming a comedy of errors amid a big fightback by the Elasto Painters in the fourth quarter to produce back-to-back wins for the first time this season.
Coach Norman Black’s team improved to 5-3, enhancing its chances of securing a quarterfinals berth in the all-Filipino tourney for the first time since 2015.
But with the good position the Bolts are in, a possible a twice-to-beat advantage assured to the top four finishers isn’t far fetched.
“We still have to pick up more victories to guarantee that we’re in. But we’ll try to focus on every game,” said Black as he lowered expectations going into games against TNT on Saturday, Terrafirma on Sunday and NorthPort on Wednesday.
Chris Newsome once again topscored for Meralco with 17 points, Baser Amer had 14 points, six rebounds and seven assists while 42-year-old Reynel Hugnatan continued to play like fine wine with 13 points.
James Yap’s season-high 18 points wasn’t enough as Rain or Shine went winless in its own slate of back-to-back games, thus dropping to sixth with a 4-3 record.
Meralco pulled away in the third quarter, outscoring Rain or Shine 28-7 behind a 57-percent shooting and Amer accounting for seven. The Bolts held the Elasto Painters to just seven points in the period on 2-of-11 from the field to enter the fourth ahead 74-51.
But Rain or Shine applied a full court press on Meralco, forcing seven turnovers including a pair of eight-second backcourt violations to pull within 82-76 under a minute remaining.
Gabe Norwood, however, was called for a foul on Newsome as the shot clock was about to expire, and the Elasto Painters were forced to foul again that led to two Newsome charities for 84-76 with 32 seconds left.
MERALCO 85 — Newsome 17, Amer 14, Hugnatan 13, Maliksi 9, Hodge 8, Quinto 8, Jamito 6, Black 5, Almazan 4, Pinto 1, Jackson 0, Salva 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 78 — Yap 18, Torres 11, Belga 11, Nambatac 8, Tolentino 6, Wong 6, Mocon 5, Norwood 2, Ponferada 2, Rosales 0.
Quarters: 27-28, 46-44, 74-51, 85-78.