By JONAS TERRADO
Meralco’s win against one of the recent PBA champions to cap off the first week of the Governors’ Cup resumption has raised the level of confidence for a team that is hungry to finally reach the winner’s circle.
The Bolts had to grind it out against their old tormentor Barangay Ginebra San Miguel and prevail 101-96 on Sunday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum to remain perfect through four games in the season-ending conference.
Getting past Ginebra came a long time after Meralco passed its first acid test of the tournament when it narrowly beat this season’s Philippine Cup champion TNT days before Christmas.
And it was against TNT and in other previous victories, import Tony Bishop put up big numbers which once again proved why the decision of former NBA player Shabazz Muhammad to back out before the start of the conference became a blessing in disguise for coach Norman Black’s team.
“Tony Bishop had a lot to do with this victory,” Black said after the Panamanian national team cager produced 30 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists. “His consistency throughout the game, the fact that he shows up every game gives us a foundation that we can build on to try to win as much as possible.”
Bishop’s emphasis on spreading it out on offense, contrast to Allen Durham’s reputation of having a more inside game, has made him produce numbers similar to that of the three-time Best Import.
He has a league-best 31.5 points, having scored at least 30 in the last three outings, on a 53-percent shooting with 14.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists.
But his play has gotten plenty of support from the locals, namely Cliff Hodge whose hustle and energy had a hand in the two wins following a 47-day break.
Hodge registered 11 points and 11 rebounds in a 110-100 win over NLEX last Friday to kick off the PBA’s return before posting eight points, eight rebounds and three assists plus intangibles that helped Meralco pull away from Ginebra late in the contest.
Chris Banchero finally made his Meralco debut against Ginebra, posting 12 points, four rebounds and three assists off the bench despite only joining the team a few days earlier.
Chris Newsome, Allein Maliksi, Raymond Almazan and Aaron Black have quietly stepped up as well for the Bolts, who will need this consistency in order to stay in title contention until the games that matter.
His solid showing gave the Bolts a prelude of how far they can go as long as they keep their hot start going into the latter part of the first set of games released by the league.
Next for Meralco are matches against winless NorthPort on Thursday which could be tricky since the latter is expected to finally field Robert Bolick, who recently signed a new deal with his team.
Then the Bolts play the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters on Feb. 20 which will see them face a squad built to make every player capable of stepping up.
“Right now our goal is to make it to the playoffs, make it to the quarterfinals, and hopefully to the twice-to-beat. That’s what we’re aiming for right now,” said Black. “So, we just have our eyes set on that, and you know, each game is a different challenge for us, you know.
“Beating Ginebra is a big deal as far as we’re concerned, because they’ve beaten us a lot in the past. So, getting this game behind us, just like getting the TNT game behind us, those are two really tough opponents, and now we just look forward to the next games coming up.”