Robert Bolick's game-winner against Meralco on Friday was a good way to gauge where NorthPort's overall level of confidence stands entering the PBA Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals. Locked in a tight back-and-forth against the slumping Bolts for most of the fourth period, the rookie took matters into his own hands and calmly sped past Chris Newsome to nail the clutch lay-up and settle the result with 4.3 seconds left.
Batang Pier improved to 9-2 with the 93-92 victory.
"These are the moments that every player wants. I just want to win. I took the opportunity to take the last shot and it went in," Bolick said in Filipino. "Personally I just want to win because this is our stepping stone to the playoffs. It wouldn't have been nice to enter on a losing note."
Not that NorthPort has done a lot of losing this conference. They continue to be one of the two hottest teams in the league and after their latest win, the in-form Batang Pier sit within the top five in a handful of major statistical categories entering the quarterfinals. NorthPort will also enter the knockout stages having beaten their opponents by a margin of 13.2 points per game. This number ranks second just behind the 15.0 per game mark by TNT, whom NorthPort actually walloped by 24 in their first meeting last May 29.
Import Prince Ibeh is slowly improving from the free throw line. Ibeh made 9-of 16 foul shots against Meralco and is now at 27 percent from the line after averaging 17 percent at one point this conference. It's easy to see why the Batang Pier feel like they're close to being the best version of themselves.
"Everyone's confident, and our import's very skilled especially on defense. He's been working hard on his free throws too," Bolick said. "It's a great feeling to see what we've worked hard for showing up right in front of us. It's a great feeling."
"It seems like everyone is ready for the playoffs," coach Pido Jarencio said. "We've been in the bottom of the standings for a lot of conferences in the past and we're just recovering now. We just have to be consistent and we need to keep going until the end. That's what we want to do, to reach the end goal."
NorthPort will take the weekend off before jumping back into practice. The bottom half of the playoff picture is pretty fluid at the moment, which means the team will have to wait for a couple more days in order to determine who it will have to face with their twice-to-beat incentive.
"We're just going to prepare. We're just going to stay focused. This is it, we're not going to let go of this. We worked hard to get this twice-to-beat advantage. Hopefully we get to the semifinals, but we'll take it game by game," Bolick said.