Allein Maliksi’s timely shooting, a career game from Nards Pinto and Raymond Almazan’s return were all the key ingredients that kept Meralco alive in the PBA Philippine Cup semifinal series with Magnolia Pambansang Manok.
Maliksi broke out of a shooting slump since the series started and finished with 29 points in the 102-98 victory Wednesday, Oct. 13, Pinto scored a career-high 24 while continuing to provide stingy defense even as Almazan gave the needed presence in the paint after missing the previous two games with a sprained left ankle.
Their performance allowed the Bolts to extend the best-of-seven series to a sixth game in 48 hours and reduced the Hotshots’ lead to 3-2.
For them to send the series to a decider, Meralco will once again need the scoring punch of Maliksi, who in the first four games was averaging 5.3 points and making just eight of his 24 shots.
But Maliksi turned a corner when it mattered, hitting seven of eight triples including a pair in the dying minutes that allowed Meralco to separate itself from Magnolia.
“Sa akin kailangan ko lang magstep up kasi do-or-die for us e,” said Maliksi. “So kailangan yung magset ako ng good example sa mga teammates ko as a veteran for them.”
Pinto’s new scoring mark was another reason why the Meralco guard, who shed 26 lbs during the offseason, has been impressive this conference.
He raised his Philippine Cup averages to 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and 2.0 assists, becoming one of the Bolts’ most important players in coach Norman Black’s rotation.
“I thought Allein did a great job of hitting his outside shots and opening up their defense, and Nards did the same thing,” said Black.
Almazan put up nine points and 10 rebounds but being there to help Cliff Hodge and the rest of the Bolts frontcourt defend the likes of Calvin Abueva, Ian Sangalang and Rafi Reavis, to name a few, was big.
He also knocked the important free throws in the final seconds to seal the deal, making three of four attempts from the 15-foot line.
Black could only hope that Almazan, who played 31 minutes, could be around in another knockout scenario for Meralco.
“Raymond is one of the reasons why we’re here in the semifinals. It gives us a big man that can contend with all the other big men in the league,” Black said. “When he went down with an injury early in the series, it really hurt us a great deal but of course, you can’t sulk, you can’t cry about it. We just have to go with what you have, and try to win.
“It’s a big lift for us to have him back. I hope he didn’t re-injure his injury, and I hope he’s ready to play again on Friday for us,” added Black.