<
>

Nard Pinto, Meralco Bolts stifle Alaska Aces for fourth win

Meralco drew substantial contributions across the board to score an 89-80 win and punch its fourth win in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup in the only game on Saturday's slate at the Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig.

Nards Pinto led the way by scoring 10 of his 16 points in the first half, while Chris Newsome logged a 14-point, 11-rebound double-double to go with six assists for the Bolts, who tallied a second straight victory to improve to 4-1 in the first tournament of the season.

Alvin Pasaol played his best game in the PBA so far and put up 11 of his 13 points in the fourth quarter, and Raymond Almazan stabilized the middle by putting up 12 and eight boards along with a block in 22 minutes for a Meralco team that now has as many wins as league-leader Magnolia (4-1).

"It's a good effort from everybody," coach Norman Black said in the post-game presser. "A lot of contributions from a lot of different players coming from a lot of different areas, and it's good to get that fourth win because, obviously, Magnolia already has four, so we're trying to keep up as much as possible in the standings."

Meralco appeared to be wary of Alaska's top-rated defense entering Saturday after the Aces limited Rain or Shine to the second-lowest scoring output ever in a PBA game in a 74-48 win on Wednesday.

The concern was warranted, as Alaska held the Bolts to just 38 percent from the floor and only 7-for-26 on 3s (26.9 percent).

Fortunately for Meralco, it dished back just enough on the defensive side of the floor to even it out, forcing the Aces to hit a subpar 36.6 percent from the field. The Bolts also handily won the battle on the glass, 56-42, including a commanding 22-12 advantage in offensive rebounds.

"The one thing I told the players after watching that game between Rain or Shine and Alaska was that, 'Your offense may be there, but you're gonna have to play defense against Alaska because they play very, very good defense.' They're a good defensive team. They are very similar to Rain or Shine in that they can bully you because they have the bigs to do it," he noted.

"So we really wanted to concentrate on one, our defense; and two, make sure they didn't get very many second chance points. We wanted to control the rebounds because we felt if we could do that, then we could get out and push the ball and have a better chance of scoring on offense," Black added.

Meralco never trailed and led for almost 45 minutes, only tying with Alaska thrice the rest of the game.

An 8-2 start to the third quarter gave Meralco its biggest lead of the game at 49-33, but the Aces remained within striking distance by slowly chipping away to come within six, 81-75, with 4:53 left.

The Bolts, however, were steadier down the stretch and defused any attempt at a comeback by scoring six straight points over the next minute and holding Alaska to just one field goal the rest of the way.

Aaron Black also threw in eight points, four assists, three rebounds and a block in 27 minutes off the bench, while Reynel Hugnatan and Mac Belo finished with seven apiece.

Alaska, now 2-3 in the conference, was led by Gab Banal's 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting, including four triples. Maverick Ahanmisi wound up with 16, three boards and three steals, while Mike DiGregorio hit 10 albeit on 2-for-12 shooting.

THE SCORES

Meralco 89 - Pinto 16, Newsome 14, Pasaol 13, Almazan 12, Black 8, Belo 7, Hugnatan 7, Quinto 4, Hodge 4, Jackson 2, Maliksi 2.

Alaska 80 - Banal 20, Ahanmisi 16, DiGregorio 10, Taha 8, Teng 7, Tratter 4, Brondial 4, Casio 4, Adamos 3, Herndon 2, Stockton 2. Quarter scores: 17-14, 41-31, 62-56, 89-80.

EXTRA DRIBBLES

- The Meralco-Alaska clash was the lone game held on Saturday after the PBA cancelled the Phoenix-Blackwater tiff originally scheduled at 2 p.m. The Bossing, along with the San Miguel Beermen, have entered the league's health and safety protocols.

- Almazan was a game-high +16.

NEXT GAMES

- Meralco vs. NLEX on Wednesday, August 4, at 3:00 p.m.

- Alaska vs. NorthPort on Friday, August 6, at 12:30 p.m.