BARAKO BULL EARNS PLAYOFF BERTH FOR SEMIS
Game Tuesday (Araneta)
6:45 p.m. — Barako Bull vs Powerade
Barako Bull helplessly watched as Meralco chopped away at a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter before leaning on a last-second miss by Bolts forward Dennis Daa in escaping with an 81-79 win last night that earned for the Energy a playoff shot for the last semifinal berth in the Philippine Basketball Association Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Lulled into complacency after securing a 77-60 lead with still 8:38 left in the game, the Energy fell into a maze of four turnovers and five missed offensives while the Bolts, behind import Mario West, launched a torrid 19-3 rally that whittled down the advantage to only 80-79, with only 36.9 seconds on the gameclock.
Then the Energy squandered their ensuing offensive when Meralco’s pressing defense forced them to their 23rd and last turnover with Willie Miller losing ball possession, leaving the Bolts with 12.1 seconds to map out their final offensive.
Not even two consecutive timeouts called by Meralco coach Ryan Gregorio could settle down the Bolts who groped around for the winning basket until Daa found himself wide open for what could have been the game-winner at the free throw line.
But Daa, a seldom-used forward dispatched by Gregorio on a wild gambit in the final quarter, would not deliver as his jumper clanked long off the rim with Barako Bull import LeRoy Hickerson hauling down the defensive rebound.
Hickerson was promptly fouled and sent to the free throw line, with .7 of a second left. He connected on the first charity before intentionally missing the second to allow the gameclock to expire.
“We played not to lose. We didn’t play to win. Fortunately for us, Daa did not that shot. We’re lucky in getting this win,” said Barako Bull coach Junel Baculi whose wards found themselves tied for sixth place — and that last ticket to the semis — with the Bolts and Powerade with identical 4-5 win-loss marks after the elimination round.
A win would have sent them to the semis outright, but if it was of any consolation for the Bolts, they bought themselves some breathing room after drawing the bye in the two-game playoffs.
Thus, Barako Bull will battle Powerade tomorrow at 6:45 p.m. at the Smart Araneta Coliseum with the victor moving on to the next playoff game against Meralco on Wednesday.
“Unfortunately, we have to go the long route. We must play above it,” said Baculi.
Already waiting in the semifinals — a tougher grind of a single-round faceoff among the six qualifiers — are Rain or Shine, Talk ‘N Text, B-Meg, Barangay Ginebra and Petron Blaze. The semis start on Friday.
The Energy had broken the game wide open near the end of the third quarter when the strung up eight points in the final minute, highlighted by a catch-and-shoot buzzer-beater by Ronald Tubid to go into the final 12 minutes with a 69-59 lead.
They poured it on in the final period with Danny Seigle hitting on back-to-back layups to punctuate another 8-1 attack at gave them their biggest advantage of 17 points at 77-60.
But in what Baculi, himself, criticized as the Energy’s tendency “to relax when they’re on top,” Barako Bull faltered from there.
West energized the Bolts with two consecutive triples in scoring 10 points in that 19-3 run as they threatened to complete a comeback off a charity by Daa for a 79-80 count, time down to 36.9 seconds.
Hickerson went on to lead the Energy with 22 points while drawing ample support from Seigle (16) and Ronald Tubid (10).
And it was a fighting yet frustrating night for West who finished with 40 points while ageless Asi Taulava added 15.
Barako Bull 81 — Hickerson 22, Seigle 16, Tubid 10, Kramer 8, Miller 7, Allado 7, Cruz 6, Salvacion 3, Najorda 2, Pennisi 0.
Meralco 79 — West 40, Taulava 15, Cardona 8, Daa 5, Macapagal 5, Bulawan 2, Mercado 2, Hugnatan 2, Ross 0, Reyes 0.
Quarters: 22-14, 41-39, 69-59, 81-79