Meralco, TNT force decider
They say the greatest two words in sports are “Game Seven.” For a Meralco squad that faced the end of its season twice in the stretch, Game 5 sounds just as sweet.
The Bolts, after all, have had a pretty good record in do-or-die matches inside the bubble.
And they got themselves into another no-tomorrow match, drawing two crucial plays from their veteran bigs to foil Barangay Ginebra, 83-80, in Game 4 of their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series on Wednesday at Angeles University Foundation gym.
“Well, I’m sure the players are very, very happy to get a chance to go into Game 5 and have a chance to move on to the finals,” Meralco coach Norman Black said. “Of course it’s going to be a tough task against Ginebra to beat them in Game 5. But at the same time, we just have to go back and watch the game and figure out what’s it going to take to get the job done.”
TNT also took its series with Phoenix to a deciding fifth game as Ray Parks Jr. came up with huge baskets in the final minutes of a 102-101 Game 4 victory later in the night.
Parks finished with 36 points and six rebounds, scoring on a drive that gave TNT a 94-84 spread with 2:49 remaining.
And when Phoenix made desperate triples in a last-ditch rally, Parks was there to defuse that stand, knocking down two free throws before delivering a step-back jumper that made it 98-92 for TNT, 70 ticks to play.
Both Game 5s will be played on Friday.
Reynel Hugnatan, on the other hand, needed just one big shot to make a difference for Meralco. The veteran bruiser buried a clutch long jumper off a Chris Newsome feed as Meralco took the lead for good, 81-80, with 15 seconds remaining—a hairline margin Raymond Almazan preserved by erasing Ginebra spitfire Stanley Pringle’s layup with eight seconds left in the game.
And in that seven-second span, the Bolts went from packing their bags and shuttling back to Manila to preparing for a you-or-me duel with the Kings for a championship berth. The Bolts have been 3-0 so far in the bubble in games where they were facing elimination.
“That was a huge block by Raymond. He’s really our inside defender, a guy we count on to be the last line of defense around the basket,” Black said. “He’s still not 100 percent yet, but he’s getting better. And that was just a huge defensive play for us. It gave us a chance to tie the series 2-2 and of course, to possibly win Game 5 and move on to the finals.”
That Pringle rejection was Almazan’s only block in a game where he finished with 11 points and a mere three rebounds. And there would have been no lead for Almazan to preserve, though, had it not been for Hugnatan’s cold-blooded jumper with Meralco down a point.
“They executed [the last play] well but of course you still got to make the shot. No matter how well you execute, you got to make the shot to finish the play—and that’s a huge shot for Reynel Hugnatan,” Black said.
It also helped Hugnatan move past accusations on social media that he was responsible for the allegations of game-rigging heard over national TV.
“I took [the episode] as some sort of inspiration,” the 42-year-old veteran told reporters in Filipino. “But it really didn’t bother me that much.”
“Tonight, it’s either we win or we go home,” he added.
Hugnatan finished with 19 points for Meralco while Newsome and Cliff Hodge added 16 each. Newsome also had 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists.
Pringle led Ginebra with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, but he and fellow playmakers LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson had 12 of the Kings’ 23 errors—which the Bolts translated into a whopping 34 points. Parks, meanwhile, hit 10 of 16 shots, including 5-of-8 from beyond the arc as he won a shootout with Phoenix top gun Matthew Wright.
Wright was all business on Wednesday, finishing with 34 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the three-point area and adding nine assists and five rebounds for Phoenix.
TNT finished 14-of-34 from beyond the arc while Phoenix, which came back from 17 points down, drained 18 out of 46 three-point attempts.
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