MERALCO is down but definitely not out.
Allein Maliksi took charge in the endgame yesterday, leading the Bolts to a 102-98 victory over Magnolia and stay alive in their PBA Philippine Cup semifinals duel at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Picking up from where Nards Pinto and Chris Newsome left off, Maliksi scored nine of his game-high 29 points in the final 3:28, capped by back-to-back triples that enabled Meralco to get a much-needed 99-93 separation from its feisty foe.
That gave the Bolts the morale boost as Raymond Almazan delivered the final points from the stripe in the final 10 seconds that thwarted the Hotshots’ bid to steal the game.
There is little time to celebrate for Meralco, however, as all it did was whittle its deficit in the best-of-seven series to 2-3 with Game 6 set tomorrow.
But the effort put in by his charges pleased coach Norman Black.
“It was very gutsy performance on the part of my players to go out and battle the entire game,” he said. “We also fought the Magnolia team on a good night. I thought they played well tonight. They really played to go out and shut us off already and eliminate us. But we stood our ground… and gave ourselves a chance to come back in the series.”
Magnolia displayed its intention to end the duel as early as possible, with Mark Barroca, Ian Sangalang and Calvin Abueva trying their best in a game where Paul Lee was off-synch.
But Meralco’s resolve proved stronger as exemplified by Pinto who had a career-high 24 points and five assists and Newsome chipping in 23 points, five rebounds and six assists before fouling out with 7:10 left.
Even Almazan, who missed the last two games due to a sprained ankle, made his presence felt by finishing with nine points and 10 rebounds.
Buoyed by the news last Monday of his third son being born, Barroca wound up with 25 points, six rebounds and four assists, while Abueva added 19 points, eight rebounds and six dimes and Sangalang 15 markers and 14 boards.
Lee had 13 points, but only on a 4-of-10 shooting from the field. He also issued five assists negated by as many turnovers.
With their chief offensive threat struggling, Jio Jalalon and Jerrick Ahanmisi tried to step up but their efforts still proved short in a game that featured 17 deadlocks and 11 lead changes.