Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Meralco Bolts: After a painful loss.

Why am I writing about the Meralco Bolts? For starters, I want to chronicle their rise especially after their poor form in the Philippine Cup. They have a curious and interesting blend of rookies and veterans. Theirs is a fascinating story.

This appears in the Monday, March 14, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.

The Meralco Bolts pick up the pieces after a painful loss.
by rick olivares 

The locker room was deathly quiet. A few days earlier following the Meralco Bolts’ first loss of the Commissioner’s Cup, there was still a buzz; maybe they could have won their sixth straight match on the road.

Tonight, following a second consecutive loss this time to NLEX, the Bolts’ locker room was like a morgue. Not many spoke. If anyone did, it was it hushed tones. No post-game talk. Even the group prayer was quick and short.

You can say that professional basketball players don’t care about winning as much as the college ballers? It isn’t exactly true. When Amer and Anjo Caram payed for the San Beda Red Lions in the NCAA, they hardly lost. When they did, it made the news. Jimmy Alapag and Jared Dillinger were used to regularly making the playoffs and winning titles over at Talk ’N Text. They too are hungry for another one. The reserve players in civvies — Rey Guevarra, Justin Chua, Joseph Sedurifa — they wall want to be in uniform. They want to play. The loss... hurts.

As the coaching staff huddled outside the locker room for their usual post-game talk before entering, it was so quiet that when Chua muttered a soft “sayang” everyone heard it. 

That said it all. 

Such is a basketball game and sports. No matter how titanic the effort, there is going to be a winner and a loser. On this night, the Bolts, unfortunately, came up short.

Twenty-minutes after the end of the match, no one budged from their seat. Then Chris Newsome dressed. Gary David followed. But Arinze Onuako sat quietly with a pained look. To his right by the cubicles, four players who gave a good account of themselves in the match — Bryan Faundo, Anjo Caram, Baser Amer, and John Ferriols — sat glumly. Amer’s head disappeared in a huge towel. None of them changed.

Thirty minutes after the match ended, Amer finally unlaced his kicks. He was the last one to do so. And later, he would be the last player to leave.

It was his costly turnover that prevented Meralco from sending the match into overtime.

The Bolts controlled the match’s first 30 minutes before NLEX’s highly-active American reinforcement, Al Thornton, changed the course of the game. Thornton, who finished with a game high 38 points, destroyed every defender Meralco threw at him. 

Thornton, the former Los Angeles Clipper, Washington Wizard, and Golden State Warrior was a one-man gang in the third period where the Road Warriors took the lead that they protected up the match’s conclusion. 

He was like Michael Jackson leading the Jackson Five. Like LeBron James during his first few years with the Cavaliers. 

He attacked the rim. He hit triples with defenders in his face. He grabbed offensive boards and stuck them back in amidst the forest of Meralco fir trees. 

By the end of his third period onslaught where Thornton scored 20 points and NLEX took the lead, 81-79.

The Road Warriors’ import took a breather at the start of the final period. Up to that point, the Road Warriors’ locals were like Jordanairres; watching the baton master conduct their symphony of destruction. The Bolts had a chance to regain the lead and put some distance between them and NLEX before Thornton was asked to check in. Except this time, the Road Warriors came alive scoring 21 points (when Thornton returned he only scored two more points as there was no need for him to take over).

NLEX’ bench exploded when Enrico Villanueva twisted his man and Onuaku, who doubled to help, for a drop step lay-up. And Simon Enciso’s massive trey gave them all the cushion to weather Meralco’s fiery endgame rally. 

The Bolts stopped NLEX but an errant pass by Amer into the crowd ended any chances of an extension period. Meralco lost, 99-104.

After the game, the Bolts’ reserve players, Joseph Sedurifa and Rey Guevarra, came over Amer’s cubicle. No words were said, both planted their hands on his hand as if to say, “It’s all right, we’ll bounce back.”

Even as the players shuffled out one by one (shaking hands with everyone with not many words spoken), assistant coach Patrick Fran waxed optimistic. “Last conference,” reminded Fran, “we went 1-10. Now may puhunan tayo. We’re still all right but we have to find a way to check the skid; if you want to call it a skid.”

The loss had some similarities to the defeat to SMB — the import, in this case Ty Wilkerson, raided Meralco from everywhere while their own big man, June Mar Fajardo drew the attention of Onuaku. When the American went to the bench, it was the locals who also put the finishing touches. For NLEX, the evergreen Asi Taulava (8 points, 9 rebounds, 1 steal, and 1 blocked shot in 35 minutes) was a handful and it allowed Thornton to operate from the outside with impunity.

The loss of Rabeh Al-Hussaini to an ankle injury also hurt the big man rotation of Meralco. Al-Hussaini, who can post up, drain the medium range jumper, and block shots not only give the Bolts another option but also a tall body. He is a better scorer than Reynel Hugnatan, Ken Bono, and Faundo. It didn’t help that Kelly Nabong wasn’t available.

The strength of Meralco aside from their defense is their local support. They usually have three or four other locals scoring in double digits to augment Onuaku’s output. Against NLEX, they had six players scoring 10 points or more (including Onuaku). 

So how do you account for the loss?

While it can be distilled down to breaks of the game, the coaching staff of Meralco sat down for their final huddle of the night to dissect the game after Baser Amer said his silent goodbyes and walked out into the long dark night. 

The coaching staff stayed to ponder what went wrong, what needed to be adjusted, and stayed there for a while. 

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