Meralco got one job done on Wednesday night and is in position to return a bitter favor Barangay Ginebra handed the Bolts last season inside the PBA Philippine Cup bubble.
Getting 22 points from Allein Maliksi and twin digits from five others, the Bolts scraped past NLEX, 104-101, to finish as the No. 2 team for the playoffs at Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga, and grab a twice-to-beat advantage for the franchise for the first time.
It was the first of a grueling back-to-back that takes place in less than 24 hours, and the second of that will be a clash with the defending champion Gin Kings whom the Bolts could help eliminate with a win and get back at a Ginebra side that showed them the door in the Final Four last year.
“We’re happy for that. We’re happy to get that twice-to-beat for the first time in the history of the Meralco franchise and we were able to do it,” said Black, who refused to talk about the Ginebra game in an interview on Tuesday.
Meralco, which got eliminated after an 83-80 Game 5 loss to the Kings last year, improved to 8-2 and will still bag No. 2 over idle Magnolia even if it loses to Ginebra.
Black said prior to the NLEX game that he wanted his wards to focus in the moment and not get too far ahead, though he stressed that they want to “win every game” when asked how they would treat the encounter with the Kings after already winning over the Road Warriors.
“Now we can look forward to our game tomorrow against Ginebra and look forward to the playoffs,” he said after the tightrope win over the Road Warriors, who fell behind by 20 early on but came roaring back and almost pulled this one out. “The last eight minutes wasn’t that pretty. But at this point of the season, every win counts.”
Ginebra is at 4-6 and needs a win to grease its path to the next round.
A loss to the Bolts will not necessarily mean elimination right away, with the Gin Kings still left with a chance depending on how the Alaska-NorthPort game, also on Thursday, pans out.
Victory over Meralco also doesn’t guarantee a spot to the next round as it, again, depends on the result of the final game of the eliminations.
And two-time Grand Slam champ Tim Cone knows this.
“We can’t be worried about the playoffs or the different scenarios. We can’t control what the other teams do, so we just focus on what we can control and that is our preparation,” said Cone. “We’ll prepare the best we can and let the cards fall where they may.”
Preparation—and the relatively longer time Ginebra had—is a luxury that Meralco doesn’t own going into the 2 p.m. game on Thursday. The Batang Pier and the Aces tangle in the 4:35 p.m. contest to bring the curtains down on the classification round and paint what could be the final picture for the playoffs.
“At this point, we’re focused on only one thing—the game against Meralco,” Cone said.
Alvin Pasaol scored 17, Mac Belo added 16 and Raymund Almazan scattered 13 in helping Maliksi carry the Bolts to a third straight win and doom NLEX to a 5-6 record.
Calvin Oftana dropped 34 points built around a new rookie record for three-pointers made—eight—with the last two coming in succession and shoving the Road Warriors to within 103-101 in the dying seconds. Oftana eclipsed by one over the old mark held by the legendary Allan Caidic.
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