Meralco coach Norman Black expressed elation over his team’s success in limiting the production of import Shabazz Muhammad during the vengeful quarterfinal victory over San Miguel Beer in the PBA Governors’ Cup.
The Bolts shook off their 26-point collapse against the Beermen in the eliminations and carved out a 100-85 win that made them the first team to reach the final four of the season-ending conference.
Black bared that Meralco put premium in defending Muhammad, who erupted for 45 of his 57 points in the second half of their lone elims game last March 5 that ended with SMB pulling out a 115-110 win.
Muhammad wound up with 24 points on 8-of-19 shooting, numbers that on some nights may be enough to win games but not on the day SMB needed to survive.
“The whole focus after what happened to us in the elimination round against San Miguel was on trying to slow down Shabazz and not allowing him to get another 57 points,” Black said.
“We were hoping to hold him down to 30. We thought that would be a good number. But I think we held him down to 24, so that was even better,” he added.
Chris Newsome, Bong Quinto and Cliff Hodge, who had at one point had a brief heated exchange with Muhammad, took turns in trying to prevent Muhammad from getting comfortable.
As a whole, the Bolts put at least three defenders on the left side which was Muhammad’s strong side in a bid to make it tough for the SMB reinforcement.
Those tactics prompted Muhammad at times to react in frustration over the defensive gameplan of the Bolts.
“Having four days of practice gave us a lot of time to try different defenses during the week. And to be quite honest, mostly all of them work tonight against him. So hats off to my players for not just learning what we were doing in practice, but executing it today in the game that was very, very important,” said Black.
In contrast, Meralco import Tony Bishop came through with 32 points, 18 of which in the third that led to a big margin that the Bolts sustained until the end.
Bishop was knocking down shots early while also being active on both ends in a calm manner which was a huge factor for the Bolts.
Another unsung hero for Meralco was veteran Reynel Hugnatan, known to step up in playoff situations.
Hugnatan’s two threes in the second quarter contributed to the Bolts’ 48-40 halftime lead before Bishop took charge to widen the gap.
It will be the fourth straight conference that Meralco will be in the semifinals, but faces another difficult challenge in top seed Magnolia Pambansang Manok.
The Bolts fell to the Hotshots in the semis last conference, but Black and company hope to turn the tide this time.