Manila, Philippines – It was a power surge delivered to the Meralco Bolts at precisely the right moment.
In 19 quick minutes, Mark Macapagal reintroduced himself to NLEX and what he is all about by connecting on 5-of-10 three-point shots in carrying the Bolts past the dazed Road Warriors, 97-82, last night in the opener of their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-3 playoffs at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Bolts can wrap up the quarterfinal mini-series and book a seat in the best-of-5 semis with another victory tomorrow at the Big Dome.
Macapagal, for sure, will be a marked man by then.
Rarely reached by light at the far corner of the Meralco bench, Macapagal, a four-time PBA All-Star 3-Point Shooting champion, stepped out of the shadows and torched the Road Warriors from his favorite distance. He also hit 5 of 7 free throws for good measure to lead the Bolts with 22 points and open himself up for defensive target in Game 2.
Josh Davis added 16 points with 21 rebounds while Gary David had 13 points and Mike Cortez and Reynel Hugnatan 10 points each. Cliff Hodge returned from injury to score 7 points and provide his usual crackling energy.
Without Macapagal,.the Bolts were in darkness from afar, going 7 of 26 in 3s, but they were 45 percent from the field overall. NLEX was just 36 percent from the floor, with import Al Thornton getting the bulk of his 23 points from the line (17 of 20) after missing 11 of 13 shots.
Though a defensive dragnet thrown by the Bolts on Thornton was a big factor, the NLEX reinforcement may have also felt the effects of a first quarter collision with Jared Dillinger that forced the Meralco star out of the game after only 32 seconds.
Dillinger hurt his left knee and Bolts coach Norman Black said the 6-foot-2 swingman could be out for the conference.
“Jared doesn’t look good,” said Black, who then paid tribute to their effective ball movement and renewed regard for teamwork. “Our offense has really let us down before. Hopefully we can build on this one.”
Meralco went up 5-0 and never looked back, roaring to a 34-19 lead after 12 minutes.
Meantime, the season’s most intriguing questions are upon the league: Is a defanged Beau Belga ready for vengeful Barangay Ginebra San Miguel? Or are all the Kings’ horses and all the Kings’ men prepared for the biggest surprise of their playoff lives?
Top seed Rain or Shine and Belga gun for the ultimate payback when they face No, 8 Barangay Ginebra today at the Mall of Asia Arena for a slot in the semifinals.
Game time is at 5:15 p.m. after the 3 p.m. curtainraiser between No. 2 Talk ‘N Text and No. 7 Barako Bull.
Armed with twice-to-beat incentives, Rain or Shine and TNT need only to win once to send their opponents packing. A loss by either or both will give the Kings and the Energy a shot at turning the tables in the ensuing do-or-die.
“It’s hard to believe that they are the No. 8 team in this playoffs,” said ROS coach Yeng Guiao of Ginebra. “With us being seeded No. 1 and you have to play a Ginebra team as No. 8, it’s not really a No. 8 team in terms of their capability. This is a team capable of beating us twice so we have to be very careful; we have to play with a sense of urgency.”
ROS beat Ginebra in a tumultuous elimination round encounter at the Cuneta Astrodome, which saw Belga paying a heavy price for making suggestive gestures at the predominantly Kings crowd and flashing a middle finger.
The burly 6-foot-5 center was fined R70,000 by the PBA for numerous infractions that may have also triggered a mineral water bottle-throwing incident late in the game. ROS center Raymond Almazan was also penalized for a separate violation.
In the second game, Purefoods routed Alaska, 120-86, to take a 1-0 lead in their best-of-three series. (With quotes from Waylon Galvez)
MERALCO 97 – Macapagal 22, Davis 16, Anthony 14, David 13, Cortez 10, Hugnatan 10, Hodge 7, Reyes 2, Ildefonso 2, Wilson 1, Caram 0, Dillinger 0, Ferriols 0.
NLEX 82 – Thornton 23, Cardona 17, Villanueva J. 13, Canaleta 8, Villanueva E. 6, Taulava 5, Ramos 4, Raymundo 2, Lingganay 2, Baloria 2, Borboran 0, Apinan 0, Arboleda H. 0.
Quarters: 34-19, 47-36, 69-61, 97-82.