Reynel Hugnatan let his game do the talking and came through with a go-ahead shot that eventually gave Meralco an 83-80 win over Barangay Ginebra San Miguel which forced their PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series to a deciding fifth game at the Angeles University Foundation Sports and Cultural Center.
Hugnatan, wrongly targeted by fans of uttering some controversial remarks that were heard on live television in Game 3, scored 19 points including an elbow jumper off Joe Devance with 15.1 seconds left that put the Bolts up 81-80.
Raymond Almazan then blocked Stanley Pringle’s attempt underneath before Cliff Hodge threw the ball on their end which enabled Chris Newsome to convert an unmolested layup with a 1.6 seconds remaining.
With no timeouts left, Ginebra tried to go for a Hail Mary shot but LA Tenorio’s heave hit the front rim as the buzzer sounded.
The Bolts won a do-or-die game for the third straight time inside the Smart Clark Giga City bubble, setting the stage for knockout affair set Friday night for a spot in the Philippine Cup Finals.
And it came on the heels of a controversy that struck the Meralco camp after someone shouted “Ref, lutong-luto ah” in Sunday’s 91-84 loss.
“We haven’t really talked about that. It’s not our focus. Just focused on the game,” said Meralco coach Norman Black, who was glad to see Hugnatan deliver with their stint in the bubble on the line.
Hugnatan shot 7-of-17 from the field while grabbing four rebounds and dishing out four assists, bouncing back from his own struggles the last time.
“Reynel has not said a word to me about that since it happened. And I haven’t talked to him about it either. So it’s kind of a non-issue, as far as we’re concerned,” said Black.
Meralco got the opportunity after forcing LA Tenorio to commit a turnover during a scramble near the Bolts bench with 19 seconds. Chris Newsome then found Hugnatan on the right elbow for the go-ahead jumper.
The Bolts then prevented Pringle twice to give the lead back to Ginebra, the last with Almazan blocking the attempt off a baseline inbound.
Newsome finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and six steals, Cliff Hodge scored 16 points including a pair of baskets in the fourth with six rebounds, three assists and three steals while Almazan added 11 points.
Pringle produced 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists but Ginebra fell short despite erasing a 46-31 deficit early in the third behind LA Tenorio and Jared Dillinger, who scored 11 of his 15 points in that period.
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