Meralco is no stranger to must-win games. In fact, the Bolts had to play in six such matches to catch the last bus headed to the 2018 PBA Governors' Cup semifinals.
Now the Bolts find themselves on the ropes again after losing to Alaska, 104-102, in Game 3 of their best-of-five series on Thursday at the Cuneta Astrodome.
Meralco import Allen Durham tried to salvage a win with 37 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and two steals. He committed just one turnover in 39 minutes of play.
With the game hanging in the balance and 9.6 seconds remaining, Durham muscled his way to the other end of the court only to miss a couple of close shots that sealed the loss.
"We couldn't get the offensive rebound when we needed it," Durham said. "I think it was like three different possessions or something like that. We had an opportunity to make headway and get the lead but we couldn't get the rebound.
"That hurt us in the end. And I missed the point blank shot at the end. I'm disappointed but that being said, it's not over yet."
While Durham failed to deliver when it mattered most, Alaska import Mike Harris scored his team's last nine points to lead the Bolts to the win.
"He's a very good player, he's a pro, he's a veteran so he knows what he's doing," Durham said of Harris. "The battle is definitely one of the better battles with imports this conference. We have to be ready and try to have a game plan to stop him a little bit."
Durham said the team remains focused on claiming the series and returning to the finals for the third straight year. Alaska, with a 2-1 lead in what is shaping up to be a classic series, is eager to book a trip to the finals when the two teams meet in Game 4 on Saturday, at 6:30 p.m. at the Cuneta Astrodome.
"I'm very confident," Durham added. "Like I said in Game 2, we beat ourselves and in this game, it came down to a couple of offensive rebounds and I missed a little layup that I normally make so it's not like we're far off. We gotta get those key stops and key rebounds when we need 'em and try to get the win on Saturday."
Meralco head coach Norman Black shared the same sentiment.
"I don't think anybody's going into tonight thinking we need a do-or-die game to play well," Black said. "I think we're just in that situation right now because Alaska outplayed us tonight and they won the game. Backs up against the wall again, we'll see how we respond to it."