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PBA: Bolts need go-to-guys to avoid falling into 0-2 hole

Game Tomorrow (Smart Araneta)
5 p.m. – Meralco vs Rain or Shine
Josh Davis
Facing the prospect of falling into a 0-2 hole in their best-of-5 series against Rain or Shine in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup semifinals, the Meralco Bolts may have to look deep into their roster to find someone who can sustain them offensively once the going gets tough in Game 2 tomorrow.

Held scoreless in the first two minutes of the final period in Game 1 last Tuesday, the defense-minded Bolts saw the ROS Elasto Painters stretch a 3-point third quarter lead to 81-72 in a blink on the way to a breakaway 99-86 victory.

Without a go-to-guy to hold back Rain or Shine while they regroup for one big assault to overcome the small deficit maybe halfway in the fourth, the Bolts got run over instead.

In fact, Meralco, even while Rain or Shine was exploiting holes in the defense with open jumpers off the double-team and one-on-one mismatches, went with just a basket – a Gary David jumper – up to the 7:23 mark when Cliff Hodge’s pull up shrunk an 11-point ROS advantage back to 9.

The E-Painters were too in-the-groove and confident by then to be denied.

Josh Davis, Meralco’s relentless import, got smothered for 11 points on 4-of-12 shooting. He just had 5 points in the final 12 minutes when ROS pounded the Bolts, 25-15, and took just 4 free throws overall, an indication of his reluctance to attack as often as he should.

There lies perhaps Meralco’s dilemma in this series.

With a non-3-point-shooting import whose lean frame couldn’t possibly sustain heavy battering over 40 minutes from an opponent armed with Sherman tanks, the Bolts will have to find somebody to open up Rain or Shine’s defense a little for Davis and Reynel Hugnatan (4 of 10 field goals) to operate inside.

The defensive strategy is best left in the hands of coach Norman Black and his staff. But the offense should be given to those capable of firing back when the Bolts’ position is under siege as it will be again be in Game 2.

With Wayne Chism, the ROS reinforcement, playing just 34 minutes in the opener (to Davis’ 42), he will be coming into tomorrow’s pivotal game bursting with reserved energy and explosive force to surpass his mild 7-of-8 performance for 18 points with 14 rebounds.

And that spells a huge problem for the Bolts.

Cliff Hodge, recently back from injury, took 14 shots in 38 minutes in Game 1, Mike Cortez 11 attempts in 33 and volume shooter David 10 in 32 minutes. Meanwhile, sniper Mark Macapagal got off just 4 attempts, making 1 trey, in a sparse 9 minutes of permitted time; John Wilson, their other long distance bomber, also took only 4 shots, nailing a triple, in 10 minutes inside.

The value of Hodge, Cortez and David can never be understated. But neither should the offensive potential of Macapagal and Wilson, and even John Ferriols, a deadshot from the perimeter, be ignored.

Specific plays may have to be called. Multiple screens set. Opportunities for longer and more frequent open looks created.

It’s all up to the Bolts. But a delicate balance between offense and defense will have to be struck if they are to avert a major power outage in Game 2.

Rain or Shine can work its magic under a downpour, in bright lights or in darkness. Meralco will have to be able to do the same.