Norman Black has so much experience in the PBA that he knew playing San Miguel Beer this early in the PBA Philippine Cup, just when the Beermen were welcoming back franchise player June Mar Fajardo, was the best time for his Meralco Bolts to play the most dominant all-Filipino team of the last decade.
“I’m happy we picked them early because once they get in shape and they start rolling, they’re going to be very difficult to stop,” Black said shortly after riding his best horses all afternoon long for a 93-87 victory on Sunday that gave his Bolts a second straight win at Ynares Sports Arena in Pasig City.
“We got off to a slow start,” he added. “In the second half, I think our conditioning came into play as we’re able to pull away a little bit.”
Meralco pounced on a San Miguel side still easing six-time Most Valuable Player Fajardo back into action, and leading that attack was Chris Newsome, who scored 17 points, including a triple in the final 42 seconds that iced the game.
“I’m happy we fought them early. Obviously, for a lot of the teams, conditioning is really the concern right now. If we catch San Miguel toward the end of the elimination round, it would’ve been a totally different story,” he said.
Early training benefits
Aaron Black and Reynel Hugnatan, who buoyed Meralco’s deep run last year in the Clark Freeport bubble, tossed in 14 and 13 points, respectively, off the bench.
And Black feels he has the preseason training camps to thank for that.
Meralco pitched camp in Ilocos Norte and then moved its training sessions to Batangas in preparation for the 46th season that didn’t have a certainty in opening until early this month.
San Miguel Beer got the goods from Terrence Romeo, who had 18 points before going down with an ankle and a suspected knee injury in the fourth period.
CJ Perez, the league’s reigning scoring champion whom the club traded for in a controversial swap last February, chipped in 17 points like Mo Tautuaa.
Marcio Lassiter scored 11 points to help keep the Beermen in the thick of the fight before the San Miguel offense sputtered when it mattered most.
Fajardo, who was coming off a long rehabilitation off a broken shin bone, finished with just five points.
Black said a triumph against a top-flight team like San Miguel sweetens the victory as that affords him a good picture of his team’s standing, especially going into the matches where elite teams await.“It’s good to make sure you beat a team like San Miguel. We have Talk ’N Text and after that, Phoenix—two very tough teams that could easily make the semifinals,” Black said.
Horrific Ginebra start
“So it’s nice to get this one against San Miguel behind us and to get a win.”.
NLEX forced Barangay Ginebra out of sync later and handed the defending champions a 94-75 whipping, as the Road Warriors improved to 1-1.
Coming from a narrow loss to Rain or Shine in the first game of the season, the Road Warriors came out the gates strong and put the Kings in several 20-point holes even if Ginebra played with celebrated big man Christian Standhardinger.
Such a performance surprised NLEX coach Yeng Guiao, who felt his crew simply played a Ginebra side yet to find its groove.
“I expected us to play decently, but I didn’t expect to win with a margin like this,” he said.
“This is not the full potential of Ginebra, of course,” he went on, “So we’re just very lucky we got them on their first game. I know they’re still making adjustments. We are just really lucky.
Kevin Alas and Kiefer Ravena starred for NLEX, scoring 20 and 19 points, respectively, as they took turns at hosing down repeated Ginebra comebacks.
Ravena’s sterling performance, however, did not surprise Guiao.
“The issue [surrounding him] can be set aside for the future. And he’s been doing that. He has not been a distraction whatsoever. He’s still the same Kiefer that we’ve known from the very beginning,” he said of his ward, who signed with a Japanese club despite having a live NLEX contract.
Standhardinger finished with eight points and 10 boards. INQ
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