Robert Bolick might already be the best guard in the PBA today and he solidified his claim on that title with a 44-point masterpiece in the NorthPort Batang Pier’s 101-95 overtime win against the Meralco Bolts.
What made the 27-year-old Bolick’s career-best point total even more special was that it did not come in a blowout win and each of his baskets was necessary to secure victory. The 32 points that he scored in the second half and overtime were direly needed by NorthPort as they trailed by double digits for most of the final two quarters.
Meralco still held on to a 10-point lead, 87-77, with 4:23 remaining in the fourth period and looked like they were in a prime position to win their first match in the 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup. However, that was when Bolick decided to put the Batang Pier on his shoulders.
The third overall pick of the 2018 PBA Draft had already scored the last five points for NorthPort at that junction, but took his game another level higher over the next four minutes. He scored 12 consecutive points on a mesmerizing array of drives to the basket that helped them draw even with the Bolts, 89-89, by the end of the final quarter.
Bolick was in full control of the match down the stretch and it seemed like whatever shot he put up found the bottom of the net. He even managed to grab a crucial offensive rebound versus Meralco’s 6’9 import Johnny O’Bryant with 23 seconds left that gave them the opportunity to tie the game.
The clinic that Bolick put on was even more impressive when considering that he had a bout of cramps during that stretch after resting for only two minutes during the match. He fell to the floor on several occasions as his hamstring required stretching, yet he managed to overcome his physical adversity to lift the Batang Pier.
Bolick continued his onslaught in the extra period, coming up with the first five points for NorthPort, which gave them enough of a push to steal the come-from-behind win. The San Beda University alumnus wound up scoring 22 straight points for NorthPort in what was one of the greatest individual performances in recent PBA history.
On a court that had two foreign imports towering over everyone else, it was Bolick who stood out and was the undisputed best player on the floor. Aside from dropping 44 points on 16-of-31 field goal shooting, he also had six rebounds, seven assists, and only two turnovers to complete the best evening of his PBA career so far.
While Bolick’s offensive showcase was the main highlight of the contest, the late rally of the Batang Pier would not have been possible without their defense as well.
Though their import Prince Ibeh scored only 12 points on an efficient four-of-six shooting, he also had 11 rebounds, two assists, one steal, and a tone-setting eight blocks. His presence inside helped limit O’Bryant who needed 38 shots to score an inefficient 30 points.
The 41-year-old veteran Santos played a key role too as he continues to produce at a high level despite his age. The 6’4 forward chipped in with 15 points, seven rebounds, one assist, two steals, and a block in addition to his trademark active defense that helped shut the Bolts down.
NorthPort is off to a strong start in this Commissioner’s Cup with a 2-1 record that could have easily been a 3-0 start had they not succumbed at the buzzer to the Bay Area Dragons. If Bolick can continue playing at this level, a surprise semifinal appearance is not out of the question given the solid supporting cast that he has.
As he continues to blossom, it is inevitable that one of the bigger teams in the league–or even abroad–will swoop in and take Bolick away. In the meantime though, this lovable underdog group looks like they are ready to take on all comers during this conference regardless of how much the odds are stacked against them.