Meralco survives TNT late run, forces rubber match

By Ivan Saldajeno

MANILA--Meralco blew a 19-point lead but hung on to trounce TNT, 103-100, in Game 2 of their PBA Commissioner's Cup quarterfinal series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City on Wednesday night.

With Alex Stepheson in early foul trouble, Baser Amer and Kelly Nabong stepped up for the Bolts, although they needed overtime to finally repulse a gritty KaTropa side.

Despite Stepheson sitting out the rest of the first quarter after getting his third foul midway through, Meralco sizzled and took a 32-13 lead at the end of the period.

TNT crawled back and was within five, 44-49, at halftime as the team began exploiting the absence of Stepheson.

The Bolts tried to pull away again in the second half, taking a 13-point cushion, 76-63, late in the third quarter and appeared to be in control again.

But the KaTropa chipped the double-digit spread again, forced Stepheson to commit his sixth foul, and came to within one, 91-92, with 34 seconds left.

TNT actually had a chance at stealing the lead as Meralco failed to convert in the next play, but Joshua Smith could only make a split from the line for the 92-all count with 5.6 seconds left.

The Bolts had a second chance to escape in regulation, but the KaTropa's defense forced Chris Newsome to a tough three-point attempt that hit the back rim at the final buzzer.

Nabong then took over in overtime, starting with a huge block on RR Pogoy and scoring two clutch layups that put Meralco on top, 98-95, with 53 seconds left.

TNT still put up a fight as Smith scored on a putback that drew the team to within one, 97-98, with 40 seconds left. However, he missed the bonus free throw off a foul that could have tied the game anew.

Newsome then scored on a pull-up to extend the lead to three, 100-97, with 20 seconds remaining.

With the KaTropa looking to force a second overtime, Jayson Castro opted for a quick triple that he missed, and Jonathan Uyloan grabbed the rebound.

Nabong, however, could only make a split from the line, and RR Garcia added some late drama as he sank a triple with three seconds left that cut the lead to one, 101-100.

Nabong made up for his missed free throw that could have helped seal the win for Meralco as he made 2-for-2 from the line in his next trip for the final count.

With no timeouts left for TNT, Kelly Williams had to throw up a prayer from way downtown that he badly missed.

Amer had a career-high 32 points with six rebounds and four assists, while Nabong contributed 15 points, six rebounds, one assist, one block, and one steal for the Bolts, who forced a Game 3 on Friday night at the said venue.

Cliff Hodge also came up huge for them, adding 15 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, four blocks, and two steals.

Smith had 18 points, 18 rebounds, three assists, and three blocks for the KaTropa.

Box Scores:

Meralco 103-Amer 32, Hodge 15, Nabong 15, Newsome 12, Dillinger 12, Stepheson 7, Hugnatan 7, Uyloan 3, Yeo 0

TNT 100-Smith 18, Williams 16, Garcia 14, Castro 12, Semerad 10, Pogoy 9, Rosario 7, Reyes 5, Rosales 5, Tautuaa 4

Quarterscores: 32-13, 49-44, 79-73, 92-92, 103-100

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