Bolts getting it done with defense
by rick olivares
Barely a month after the Commissioner’s Cup tipped off, we’ve got an unlikely cast atop the PBA table. Meralco is the only undefeated team at 5-0 while Mahindra is at second with a 3-1 record.
Last conference’s protagonists, Philippine Cup champion San Miguel Beermen are at 1-1 while the Alaska Aces are at 2-1 (good for third thus far).
While the Meralco Bolts have duplicated their Commissioner’s Cup start of Season 40 (with import Josh Davis), it looks like this year could be different for this ballclub that made its PBA debut six years ago.
The Bolts are tops in the defensive rankings allowing a league low of 88.0 points per game. That is a full seven points better than second running Barangay Ginebra that surrenders 95.5 points an outing. Conversely, Meralco scores the fewest points in a game by any PBA team with 91.4 per match.
“After where we finished last conference, I’ll take anything,” said Meralco’s second year head coach Norman Black. “Of course, we aren’t satisfied with that. We have a long ways to go. A 5-0 start doesn’t mean anything yet because the goal is to finish somewhere at the top if we can. But I am pleased we are doing well defensively. But we have to continue working hard to get better.”
As of today, Meralco has allowed the fewest field goals (40%) and the fewest three-point field goals (30.5%). They are also in the top three in free throws allowed, rebounds, allowed, and assists allowed categories.
Team manager Paolo Trillo attributes the Bolts early conference success to better team chemistry after keeping last year’s squad mostly intact and to American reinforcement Arinze Onuaku who has plugged the gaping hole in the middle. “Last year we had a team that didn’t really know one another. Give or take a few players, it is mostly the same team we have now but with better team chemistry and an understanding of what we want to accomplish,” elaborated Trillo who has also partnered with Black during the Ateneo Blue Eagles’ incredible run in UAAP college basketball several years ago that produced a five-peat.
“Arinze has been a big factor for us with his size and ability to challenge shots, other teams are re-thinking their attack,” the more he gets into 'PBA shape' (meaning playing longer minutes), the better it will be for our team.”
The Bolts are drawing their firepower from Onuaku who is leading the team with 20.0 points, 17.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, and 1.6 blocks per game. Rookie forward Chris Newsome is pacing the local with his scoring at 12.0 points. Veterans Jared Dillinger and Cliff Hodge also provide double digit production with 11.4 and 10.6 points a match respectively.
“We’ve also had to deal with some injuries to Jimmy Alapag and Rabeh Al-Hussaini out,” added Trillo. “But it has been a challenge with others picking up their game. Reynel Hugnatan came up big for us in the last game.”
“We have long way to go,” downplayed Newsome of Meralco’s terrific start. “We’d love to keep this going if we can. But it is nice to have that force and stopper in the middle with Arinze."
The Bolts will face a stiff challenge when they play the Beermen this Saturday in Legazpi City.