Meralco turned back San Miguel, 99-88, to give head coach Norman Black a winning return and more importantly tie their best-of-seven semifinals series in the 2022 PBA Philippine Cup on Friday, Aug. 5, at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts squandered a huge 17-point lead in the first half but recovered just in time in the final frame behind the big plays from Toto Jose, Aaron Black and Raymond Almazan to set the semis showdown on equal footing at 1-1.
Only up by two, 76-74, early in the fourth quarter, Jose provided a huge lift for Meralco, scoring seven of his 13 points during a 9-2 spurt which proved to be the pivotal run for the Bolts as they built an 85-76 cushion.
SMB tried to rally behind June Mar Fajardo in the waning minutes but timely hits from Black and Chris Newsome kept the Beermen at bay until the final buzzer.
Black was pleased to see his team share the ball well especially against a very talented team like San Miguel.
“(Teamwork) is something we always preach, in fact we want to get about 25 or 26 assists a game. Get everybody involved in the offense and make it a little difficult for teams to stop us if it’s a lot of guys out there scoring,” said Black who finally returned to the Bolts sideline after missing nine games when he took a leave to attend to his then-ailing mother.
Evident to that teamwork were seven players who scored at least nine points for the side of Meralco. Cliff Hodge continued his rare offensive display with 17 points while Black and Allen Maliksi added 15 apiece. Chris Newsome had 14 while Chris Banchero and Bong Quinto chipped in nine each.
“I just arrived at 12 midnight yesterday so I just had to adjust very quickly to what’s going on right now. Try to look at the last game and make adjustments going into this game,” said Black who had assistant coach Luigi Trillo play stand-in for him and guided the Bolts to a 6-3 record during that stretch.
Fajardo paced the SMB with a double-double of 22 points and 17 rebounds while Marcio Lassiter and CJ Perez added 16 and 14 points respectively.
Meralco actually went off to a blazing start, erecting its largest lead at 17 early in the second frame. The Beermen started to find their groove late in the first half and early in the third frame with Lassiter draining four triples.
A 10-0 run late in the third frame allowed SMB to take a 72-70 lead but a quick 6-0 retaliation from Meralco restored order for a 76-72 count heading into the final frame.