This appears in the Monday, April, 11, 2016 edition of the Business Mirror.
How about them Bolts?
by rick olivares
It seems that after every win this season, Meralco Bolts head coach Norman Black had to answer questions that always included his team’s 1-10 finish in the previous Philippine Cup. At one point, he got exasperated, stating this the previous conference was different from the now — the Commissioner’s Cup — because of the inclusion of Arinze Onuaku who has given the team the low post presence it lacks. The previous conference, Black would point out, was a team that had chemistry issues. Now, well, he thinks they’ve addressed them.
After the Bolts were dealt their first loss after winning their first five matches, that talk continued. And it did after a second successive loss. Meralco has since arrested that skid with three consecutive wins including a huge 107-101 win over Alaska who they had not beaten in two years. That enabled them to go to 8-2 and remain on top where they have been all conference long.
The win over Alaska was impressive because they never really allowed the Aces to dictate the pace of the game. When Alex Compton’s squad took a third quarter lead, Black’s troops responded and re-took the lead and never let go.
What I thought was impressive about the win was a stretch in the third and fourth period where the locals held off Alaska. Black was ready to send Onuaku back into the match but the locals started to play better. And Jimmy Alapag sure turned back the hands of time to turn in a clutch performance.
Having said that, the days of imports scoring a ton of loads is over. They do happen from time to time but they aren’t the norm. The locals have not only gotten better in all aspects of the game but they can be just as devastating.
As impressive as Onuaku is with his nightly double double efforts, I believe that the Bolts’ locals have held their own. And they are a crucial part of Meralco’s keys to winning a match. Defense is key, but it’s also what they need to do on offense that has helped them to the league’s best record.
The post-up game.
Aside from Arinze, one other player they try to post up is Cliff Hodge. You find them going to Hodge in the post early in the game. If Hodge finds his rhythm in the first period then he’s a handful for the rest of the night.
The three-headed monster.
Reynel Hugnatan, Bryan Faundo, and Ken Bono have done a creditable job platooning at center and power forward. Theirs is the unenviable job of containing the opposing import (sometimes that job goes to Jared Dillinger if the American likes to drive from the outside). Hugnatan was superb when he was with Alaska; the forward who did all the dirty work. The Freddie Abuda-type of player. When he was signed by Meralco, it looked like he had seen better days. Wearing his beloved Air Jordans, he hasn’t been turning in Jordanesque-scoring binges but he’s been more Rodmanesque. Along with Faundo and Bono, one thing they need to do is hit that medium range jumper off a pass by Onuaku when he’s double-teamed. When they aren’t hitting that, it makes it harder for their import to get going.
Those virtuoso drives.
When Chris Newsome and Jared Dillinger get to the basket with those drives from the outside (on a half-court set), then watch out. They carve up the defense and that leads to layups, drop passes, and kick outs. Of course, the outside shooters have to keep defenses honest.
After these huge wins, the collective confidence of the team is soaring. Up and down the bench, different players are contributing to the cause. There are a myriad of feel good stories from Ken Bono getting meaningful playing time to the young players like Newsome, Baser Amer, and Anjo Caram holding their own to Ryan Buenafe sightings, and of course, to old vets like Jimmy Alapag, JD, and Reynel carrying the team on some nights.
However, the Meralco Bolts have still a long ways to go. Right now, they have the ingredients to make a deep playoff run but the task is to not only improve but to win a championship. It has been fun so far following them and turn things around.