Allein Maliksi caught fire, powering Meralco to a 102-98 win over Magnolia in Game 5 to stay alive in their Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Philippine Cup best-of-seven semifinal series yesterday at the Don Honorio Ventura State University Gym in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Maliksi was impressive, registering nine of his 29 points in a blistering fourth-quarter rally to lift the Bolts to the crucial win that extended the series to Game 6 on Friday.
Pressure is now on the Hotshots, who practically had no answer to Maliksi’s red-hot shooting in which he connected seven of his eight attempts from beyond the arc on top of three rebounds and two steals in 37 minutes of action.
The former University of Santo Tomas sniped tied his season-high for three-pointers made while logging his highest scoring output in a Meralco uniform.
Prior to the outburst, Maliksi has been averaging a meager 5.3 points per game in the first four matches of this series.
Nard Pinto also had a superb performance with 24 points and five assists while Chris Newsome sprung back to life, tallying 23 points, five rebounds and six assists for the Bolts, who are looking to advance to the finals for the first time since the Governors’ Cup in 2019.
Meralco coach Norman Black said they were pressured to go all, knowing that Magnolia was ready to go for the kill and wrap up the series.
“We had our backs against the wall so there was no tomorrow for us,” said Black, who has yet to win a title since the Philippine Cup in 2013.
“It was a very gutsy performance from my players.”
He added that the Hotshots were tough nuts to crack, but his players simply refused to give up, especially down the stretch in which they transformed a deadlock at 90 in the final 3:28 into a six-point lead, 99-93, with only 1:20 left.
Although Calvin Abueva converted off a beautiful inbound lob to slash the cushion to two, 98-100, in the final 7.4 seconds, Almazan calmly sank his charities in the ensuing play to seal the victory.
“We also fought the Magnolia team on a good night,” Black said.
“They played well and they played to go out and shut us off already into eliminating us. But we stood our ground. We made some big shots down the stretch which were very, very important. We kept our composure and we gave ourselves a chance to get back in the series.”
Almazan had nine points and 10 rebounds in his return from an ankle injury while the Bolts continue to miss the presence of Rookie of the Year Aaron Black, Reymar Jose, Nonoy Baclao and Jammer Jamito.
Mark Barroca bannered Magnolia, firing 25 points on 9-of-10 shooting, but saw the lack of contribution from the Hotshots bench to close out the series.
Still, Black knows that the battle is far from over.
“I think in this game, we just wanted to fight for another day. We wanted to play again on Friday,” Black said.
“We know we have a tough road ahead of us, because they are up 3-2 against us. But at the same time, we’re just gonna take it one game at a time.”
MERALCO (102) — Maliksi 29, Pinto 24, Newsome 23, Almazan 9, Hugnatan 6, Hodge 4, Belo 4, Quinto 3, Pasaol 0, Caram 0, Jackson 0.
MAGNOLIA (98) — Barroca 25, Abueva 19, Sangalang 15, Lee 13, Jalalon 12, Ahanmisi 8, Reavis 6, Dionisio 0, Corpuz 0, Dela Rosa 0.
Quarters: 23-33, 45-47, 69-71, 102-98.