Meralco books place in PBA Commissioner's Cup quarterfinals

By Ivan Stewart Saldajeno

December 18, 2023, 8:40 am

MANILA – Meralco Bolts built a huge lead just enough to hold off Converge's last push for a 105-99 win in their PBA Commissioner's Cup game on Sunday at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City.

The Bolts slowly pulled away in the first three quarters and were ahead, 93-70, with 7:20 left in the fourth quarter.

Meralco was still up, 101-81, with less than four minutes left when Converge rallied back to cut the lead down to six, 103-97, with 20 seconds to go.

The comeback, however, fell short as the Bolts got to milk nine seconds off the clock before Chris Banchero hit two insurance free throws.

Zach Lofton led Meralco, which booked a spot in the quarterfinals after winning its fourth straight game to move up to 6-1, with 30 points, eight rebounds, and two assists.

Banchero added 21 points, three rebounds, and two steals off the bench, while Allein Maliksi chipped in 20 points, seven rebounds, and one assist.

Chris Newsome tallied a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds with three assists and one steal.

Justin Arana had 25 points and 11 rebounds, while Alec Stockton added 21 points, three rebounds, and one assist for Converge, which dropped to 1-7.

Jamil Wilson was held to 13 points on 4-of-18 shooting, although he too had 11 rebounds, six assists, and two steals.

In the second game, San Miguel Beermen turned the tides in the last two minutes to pip TNT Tropang Giga, 98-93.

A fadeaway from CJ Perez sparked the Beermen's last push offensively even as their defense shut down the Tropang Giga down the stretch.

Perez shot the go-ahead mid-range basket to put SMB ahead, 94-93, with 1:51 left, while his teammates forced Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to two stops, a missed three, and a turnover that led to Ivan Aska's steal.

Aska would put back a Perez miss to up the Beermen's lead to three, 96-93, with 28 seconds left.

Perez then stole the ball off Kib Montalbo's inbound pass, and Jericho Cruz iced the game with two free throws.

Aska led SMB, which broke a tie with TNT and tied NorthPort for fourth place at 5-3, with 25 points on 11-for-18 shooting, nine rebounds, four assists, and three steals.

Perez added 20 points on 8-of-15 field goals, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, and one block.

Calvin Oftana led the Tropang Giga, who fell to seventh place at 4-4, with 27 points, 13 rebounds, two assists, and one block.

Hollis-Jefferson added 26 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and one block. (PNA)