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We’ve come a long way since, says Black.
Time was when all an opposing team needed to do to win against Meralco was to show up.
And even when it was kind of getting into the groove, Meralco lacked the maturity to close out a game, much more a series.
“I think we’ve come a long way since the first conference. We were really pretty bad,” admitted Meralco head coach Norman Black, who steered the Bolts to the PBA Governors’ Cup finals after ousting sister squad TNT Katropa.
The Bolts are eagerly awaiting the survivor of the semifinal showdown between another pair of sister teams in San Miguel Beer and Barangay Ginebra and are aching to test whether their new-found confidence and winning ways will carry them all the way to the championships.
Before securing its first finals ticket, Meralco was swept away by Rain or Shine in the last Commissioner’s Cup and came up short in the previous Governors’ Cup quarterfinals versus eventual champion San Miguel.
And there was also the team’s woeful 1-10 campaign in the Philippine Cup that forced them to go on an early vacation.
At one point, Meralco dropped six straight games.
The team started to pick things up – and Black began to weave his ‘magic’ – in the Commissioner’s Cup when the Bolts, powered by import Arinze Onuaku, barged into the semifinal round.
The team, however, lost to Alaska in the do-or-die Game 5 of the series.
Black – at that time – mentioned that making it to the semifinals, however, was a big achievement for them and that they can use everything they gained to take another shot at making the finals.
True enough, the Bolts earned a twice-to-beat incentive in the quarterfinals when it downed newcomer Phoenix in a playoff game for No. 4, then edged the same squad in the quarterfinal round.
The win arranged a semifinal showdown against the top seeded TNT Katropa, which finished the elimination round with a 10-1 record, humiliated NLEX in the quarterfinals to enter the Final Four.
The heavily favored Texters won Game 1 of the semifinals, 113-95.
Meralco bounced back, first scoring a 106-91 victory in Game 2, buried a team’s franchise record 17 three-pointers in a 119-113 triumph in Game 3, and rode on a career night 32 points from Cliff Hodge to score a 94-88 win in Game 4 to earn its first finals appearance Monday night at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“I’m happy we are finishing the year on a good note. I’m happy for the team, for the players,” said Black, who owns 11 PBA champions.
Interestingly, the last championship of Black was with Talk ’N Text during the 2013 Philippine Cup – the season he came back to the PBA after spending five years winning titles for Ateneo in the UAAP.
Whatever the outcome of the San Miguel-Ginebra duel, it presents an interesting series for Black, as a match up with Ginebra would feature two coaches with Grand Slam titles since the Kings’ Tim Cone has two with Alaska in 1996 and Star in 2014.
As for Black, his 11 PBA titles include a Grand Slam championship – the league’s version of a ‘triple crown’ – with San Miguel Beer during the 1989 Season with players like Ramon Fernandez, Hector Calma, Samboy Lim, Ricky Brown, Franz Pumaren and Ato Agustin.
Black said that he doesn’t have any preference, knowing that either SMB or Ginebra presents a tough challenge. The only thing he can control is how they would perform in the series, which starts Friday at the Araneta Coliseum.
“Obviously it’s not over yet, we still have a championship series to play,” said Black.
Meantime, telecommunication mogul Manny V. Pangilinan, who controls Meralco, TNT and NLEX, congratulated the Bolts.
“They played a good series, and to have beaten a team like TNT is quite a feat,” he said.