It seemed like everything was conspiring against Meralco before Friday night.
With just one victory to show in six games, the Bolts were expected to bring their PBA Commissioner’s Cup campaign to life by taking on the fire-breathing Dragons of Bay Area, who had lost just once in seven previous outings.
Fortunately, a “breath of fresh air” launched Meralco.
The Bolts held on in the most critical moments to outlast the Dragons, 92-89 and bag a well-deserved win at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was only a second win for Meralco, but for coach Norman Black it was a big boost for a team facing a 50-point effort from Bay Area’s Andrew Nicholson.
“It’s something we talked about: anything is always possible, isn’t it? Even with all the adversity we’re facing right now,” Black said, referring to the workforce issues plaguing the team due to injuries and the failure of the original import. Johnny O’Bryant finding his rhythm.
Half of those issues have been resolved with the arrival of KJ McDaniels, who only joined the Bolts in training last Tuesday. The undersized import featured prominently in the gallant stand, knocking down one tough basket after another and accounting for nine of Meralco’s last 13 points that kept the Dragons at bay.
“With KJ coming in, we thought we had a breath of fresh air and it would give us a chance to win,” Black said of his new ward, who previously played for TNT and NLEX.
McDaniels’ 31 points were backed up by Raymond Almazan, Allein Maliksi, Chris Banchero and Bong Quinto who all finished in double figures, effectively plugging production holes left by injured props Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge.
“Thanks to my teammates, they picked me up and they still had faith in me. They were telling me to keep shooting the ball,” McDaniels said.
“[T]the pipe guys – they picked me up when i was down throughout the game. It’s a blessing to be back. I’m happy to get a W against a top team,” he continued.
Along with Nicholson’s 50, the Dragons also drew firepower from Kobey Lam, who had 23 points.
But no other Bay Area player had more than five points.
“One thing I’m happy about…is we played defense tonight, which we haven’t done all this conference,” Black said.
Meralco may also have benefited from a key missed call in the streak.
Down three in the final 21 seconds, Bay Area skipper Glen Yang missed a triple the Bolts rebounded. But Meralco failed to cross the half-court line in eight seconds, an infraction the referees missed.
The PBA technical committee said it had identified the fault and commissioner Willie Marcial added that the referee would be suspended.
However, Bay Area coach Brian Goorjian didn’t let that late streak detract from how confidently his under-equipped opponent fought.
“[T]his team really pushed our guys and really challenged them – to catch the ball, dribble the ball, move the ball. It was really tough for us and they forced a lot of turnovers. And then they are very physical on the glass. And those two things really hurt [us]”, he told reporters as he walked out of the venue. Later that night, Rain or Shine edged NorthPort, 76-75.
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