By Michael Angelo S. Murillo, Senior Reporter
THE MERALCO Bolts stayed alive in the PBA Philippine Cup after winning Game Four of their best-of-five semifinal series, 83-80, with the Barangay Ginebra San Miguel Kings on Wednesday at the Angeles University Foundation Sports Arena to force a rubber match.
Had its back against the wall, Meralco came out with more fight and drive to stave off elimination and make it a winner-take-all against Barangay Ginebra on Friday for a spot in the finals of the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) All-Filipino tournament.
The contest got off to a competitive start with the teams trying to establish early control.
Meralco held a two-point-cushion, 11-9, at the halfway point of the opening quarter before it went on to fight off a spirited challenge from Barangay Ginebra to build a 26-21 advantage after the first 12 minutes.
The Bolts continued to hold off the Kings to start the second canto on the lead of Allein Maliksi and Cliff Hodge.
They stretched their lead to double digits, 35-25, with 5:03 to go, which they used as leverage to stay in command, 44-31, at the break.
In the third quarter, Barangay Ginebra came out with its guns blazing.
Three consecutive triples, care of LA Tenorio and Scottie Thompson, inside the first two minutes pushed the Kings to within six points, 46-40.
They kept pouring it on as the quarter progressed, eventually overtaking the Bolts, 51-50, at the 4:17 mark.
Meralco tried to keep its bearing amid the turbulence, but still found itself trailing, 64-60, heading into the payoff quarter.
The fourth quarter saw the teams trying to solidify their footing at the onset.
The Bolts seized the lead anew, 68-66, with 8:41 left to play, after a three-pointer from Nards Pinto.
The teams kept jostling after that, fighting to a 74-all count with 4:25 remaining on the game clock.
Meralco held a one-point advantage, 79-78, entering the last two minutes before Barangay Ginebra took the driver’s seat, 80-79, with a bucket in the paint from Japeth Aguilar with 1:25 to go.
The Bolts called a timeout after. It was a move that did not pay off as they failed to score in the ensuing play.
Barangay Ginebra tried to add on to its lead, but failed to do so.
Meralco was still in the game after forcing a turnover with 20 ticks left to play.
Off a timeout, the Bolts went to veteran Reynel Hugnatan who drained a long two with 15 seconds remaining to give the lead back to his team, 81-80.
Following a ceasefire, the Kings went to Stanley Pringle to make a play, but his drive failed to produce a basket.
But the ball remained on the Barangay Ginebra side with 7.6 seconds to go after Meralco failed to secure the rebound.
In the succeeding play, the Kings went anew to Mr. Pringle, but his shot attempt was blocked by Raymond Almazan.
Two breakaway points by Chris Newsome preserved the win for the Bolts.
Mr. Hugnatan finished with 19 points to lead the way for Meralco.
Mr. Newsome had 16 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists while Mr. Hodge also had 16 markers.
For Barangay Ginebra, it was Mr. Pringle who was the high point man with 18 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists.
Jared Dillinger had 15 points with Messrs. Thompson and Aguilar chipping in 12 points apiece.