Coach Norman Black could only heave a sigh of relief after Jeff Chan missed a potential game-winning three at the buzzer and Meralco escaped Phoenix, 92-90, Wednesday night at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
“For us, it was a championship game,” the veteran mentor said as the Bolts stayed alive in the 2018 PBA Philippine Cup playoff race.
With their backs against the wall, the Bolts almost saw their season go down the drain after the Fuel Masters made a huge run in the third quarter to erase a 16-point lead and storm back again in the last 1:23 to cut the 92-87 advantage down to just two.
Jaypee Mendoza forced a jumpball on Chris Newsome with 13.5 seconds left, giving Phoenix one last chance to steal the game, but the 2016 Rookie of the Year did just enough to nudge Chan in the waning seconds and force him to heave the desperation three.
“That was really a hard-fought game. I’m just happy with my guys staying in the game and kept fighting until the end,” remarked Black.
Garvo Lanete stepped up for the undermanned Meralco with career second-best 24 points on a 4-of-9 shooting from threes to help his side rise to 3-6.
Cliff Hodge finished with 17 markers, three rebounds, and three assists, but had to exit the game after incurring a knee injury on a collision with Willy Wilson late in the third quarter.
“We really had to dig deep to get in this basketball game. It takes a lot of will power for the players to say, ‘No, we will win this game,’ and that’s what the players did today,” said Black as his side snapped their three-game losing slump.
Wilson led Phoenix with a season-best 24 points and eight rebounds, while Matthew Wright got 16 markers and eight boards, but shot 0-of-5 from downtown and fouled out with 2:58 still left to play.
The Fuel Masters remain at seventh place with their 4-5 card, but are now tied with TNT.
MERALCO 92 — Lanete 24, Hodge 17, Canaleta 9, Caram 9, Newsome 9, Tolomia 9, Hugnatan 6, Amer 5, Salva 4, Ballesteros 0, Baracael 0.
PHOENIX 90 — Wilson 24, Wright 16, Jazul 13, Perkins 10, Chan 8, Mendoza 6, Dehesa 5, Intal 4, Kramer 4, Alolino 0, Chua 0, Eriobu 0.
Quarters: 29-18, 54-40, 70-75, 92-90.
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