MERALCO is in a situation similar to the one it had during the latter part of the PBA Governors’ Cup elimination round.
The Bolts are fighting for life today as they play an Alaska team that’s going for a finals berth in the season-ending conference at the Cuneta Astrodome.
“It’s do-or-die so we’ll just go out and play our best, and hopefully win the game,” said Meralco coach Norman Black.
The Bolts lost in Game 3 last Thursday, 104-102, in a heart-breaker that put them trailing the Aces, 1-2, in the best-of-5 series.
“Our back is against the wall again, so we’ll see how we respond the next game,” added Black, whose Bolts needed – a succeeded – to sweep their last four outings in the elimination and two more outings (against a twice-to-beat Phoenix) during the quarterfinal round in order to make the semis.
Now, the Bolts need to rebound – a big rebound at that – to remain alive in the playoff.
If they are to level things, the Bolts have to find ways to improve their rebounding job.
During last Tuesday’s Game 2 (which they lost, 100-95), the Bolts had difficulty getting the rebound. In last Thursday’s Game 3, they were outrebounded again by the Aces, 49-37, with Alaska’s import Mike Harris grabbing 24 to complete a triple-double.
Harris scored 31 points and dished off 11 assists as he got the better of his head-to-head duel with two-time best import awardee Allen Durham.
“We were dominated under the boards, particularly Mike Harris. He came up with some crucial offensive rebounds down the stretch,” admitted Black. “So we have to do something with our rebounding the next game. We have to be better.”
Actually, the game was close all the way. It was highlighted with 10 lead and 11 deadlocks, and the turning point which went to the Aces’ side, happened only in the final one minute.
It was Harris who scored the Aces’ final four points inside the last 16 seconds, including a three-point play to break the game’s final deadlock and give the Aces a 103-100 lead.
He later added a free throw to knot the final count, then watched the Bolts missed four chances of sending the game into overtime, including two baskets by Durham underneath.
That intense end nevertheless enabled Alaska coach Alex Compton to heave a sigh of relief, but that could very well spill over in their 6:30 p.m. encounter.
“There were multiple times when we got down, they took the lead, they were playing well, and they were beating us because they were doing a good job. And we didn’t stop,” noted Compton.
“We came back. We just kept on fighting and obviously, Simon Encsio hit big shots. He got to the basket, hit threes. I like that we weathered runs that they made. That’s character development for the team,” added Compton.
A win today by the Aces will catapult them to the best-of-7 finals. The Aces have never won a title in five seasons already or since winning the Commissioner’s Cup.
The Bolts on the other and are looking to seal a third straight finals appearance in the tournament. They advanced in 2016 and 2017 but lost on both occasions against Ginebra.