Reynel Hugnatan delivered in the clutch for the Meralco Bolts to tie the best-of-five PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at two games apiece. The Bolts escaped with a 83-80 win over Barangay Ginebra Wednesday at the AUF Sports Arena and Cultural Center.
Hugnatan, who finished with 19 huge points off the bench, sank the eventual game-winner for the Bolts by draining a long two-pointer on the right wing off a Chris Newsome kick-out to give Meralco a slim 81-80 advantage with 15.1 seconds left. Ginebra had a chance to snatch the win in the final 10 seconds, but Meralco came away with two huge stops on Stanley Pringle to preserve the win.
Coach Norman Black said that Hugnatan dagger was really designed both for the 42-year-old vetaran and for Newsome. Meralco was down one at that point with about 20 seconds left after missing a pair of good looks in prior possessions.
"(Newsome) was supposed to come off Reynel's screen and (if) he was open, he was supposed to take it. If he was not open, then he should look for Reynel, because that meant that both defenders probably went with Newsome and Reynel would be open," Black explained.
"They executed it well but of course you still got to make the shot -- no matter how well you execute, you got to make the shot to finish the play -- and that's a huge shot for Reynel Hugnatan."
Raymond Almazan later came up big for the Bolts by rejecting Pringle at the rim with eight seconds left. That led to an easy lay-in by Newsome on the other end.
"That was a huge block by Raymond. He's really our inside defender, a guy we count on to be the last line of defense around the basket. He's still not 100% yet, but he's getting better. And that was just a huge defensive play for us," Black remarked.
Newsome finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds, six steals and five assists for Meralco. Cliff Hodge also showed up with 16 and six boards, while Almazan tallied 11 points and three boards.
Pringle had 18 but struggled with his shot (7-for-19) in the loss for the Gin Kings. Jared Dillinger threw in 15 points off the bench, while Scottie Thompson had 13, eight rebounds and five dimes in 40 minutes.
Ginebra looked poised to punch the first finals ticket after a massive third quarter outburst swung the momentum in its favor. Down 15 early in the third quarter, the Gin Kings proceeded to outscore Meralco 33-16 and enter the final frame with a four-point lead, 64-60.
Dillinger and LA Tenorio starred after the break for Ginebra. Tenorio hit two threes in a 9-0 run that first cut a 44-31 lead to just six, then Dillinger later joined in on the three-point barrage by sinking one of his own to cap a 20-6 start that gave Ginebra the lead, 51-50, with over four minutes remaining.
Meralco fought back with a sense of urgency behind Newsome, who put the Bolts up 79-76 with a tough jumper with 2:21 to go.
But Ginebra hung around, as Aguilar came alive to score the last 10 points for the Gin Kings, including a jumper off a pick-and-pop with Pringle to help his team take an 80-79 advantage with 1:25 remaining.
The Bolts have a chance to enter the All-Filipino finals for the first time in franchise history with a win on Friday, but Black knows Meralco has so much work ahead if it wants to get over the hump against a Ginebra team that has bested them in three previous battles on the championship stage.
"I'm just happy that the players bounced back from our game three days ago, where we didn't really play very, very well, and they played much better tonight. But even with that, you can see the fight in Ginebra and the fact that they did not give up, they really wanted to win the game," he said. "Coaches have to do their jobs. We have to get the players as much rest as possible in between now and Friday to make sure they're fresh."
Meralco 83 -- Hugnatan 19, Newsome 16, Hodge 16, Almazan 11, Maliksi 8, Amer 4, Pinto 3, Black 2, Quinto 2, Jamito 2, Jackson 0, Caram 0.
Ginebra 80 -- Pringle 18, Dillinger 15, Thompson 13, Aguilar 12, Tenorio 8, Caperal 8, Mariano 6, Tolentino 0, Devance 0.
Quarters: 26-21, 44-31, 60-64, 83-80.
- Trevis Jackson sprained his left ankle late in the first quarter and missed the rest of the game. He exited the AUF Arena on crutches. Said Black: "On a scale of one to 10, he said it was about a five, so that seems to be pretty bad. I'll just have to check with him after the game and find out whether he can go on Friday and not. I hope he can because it gives us another body to throw out there against Stanley Pringle."
- Ginebra was 6-for-11 from long range in the third frame but was 2-for-16 in the other quarters. The team also had more turnovers (23) than assists (21), and Meralco got 34 points off their miscues.
Game 5 on Friday, Nov. 27, at 6:30 p.m.