The 2022 PBA Commissioner’s Cup has been a challenging one for the Meralco Bolts so far after their best local player Chris Newsome went down with a hamstring injury in their season opener.
They dropped their first two games of the new conference and badly needed a win heading into their third match. Luckily, they were scheduled to face the hapless TerraFirma Dyip who came in having lost 19 consecutive contests dating back to the 2021 PBA Governor’s Cup.
Meralco’s guards took charge and led them to a convincing 105-92 victory that allowed them to finally barge into the win column. Although a triumph over the Dyip is not much to brag about, it was a step in the right direction for one of last conference’s semifinalists.
The Bolts’ starting backcourt of Aaron Black and Chris Banchero, along with their lead reserve Bong Quinto, provided constant support throughout the afternoon for their import Johnny O’Bryant.
The rising star Black provided stability for Meralco and tallied with 17 points, three rebounds, five assists, and two steals. Banchero added 17 points, five rebounds, seven assists, and two steals while Quinto was solid in his back-up role behind their two starting guards. The 27-year-old scored eight of his 17 points in the final period and also added seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals.
Starting small forward Allein Maliksi had a strong outing as well, hitting seven-of-14 from the field to finish with 18 points, six rebounds, two assists, and two steals.
Black, Banchero, and Quinto will have to continue churning out performances like this for the Bolts to compete in this conference, especially if Newsome remains sidelined for an extended period of time. The playmaking that these three guards provide Meralco is invaluable and is particularly needed given the difficulty that O’Bryant has had with his efficiency.
The 6’9 O’Bryant, who was drafted by the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round of the 2014 NBA Draft, paced the team with 31 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals, and a block. However, he once again shot poorly from the field, hitting only 11 of his 26 shot attempts against TerraFirma. In their prior two games, he averaged 30 shot attempts, but converted them at a mere 40% clip.
The solution for Meralco may be to let O’Bryant work off the ball more often and give their local guards more opportunities to run their offense like what they did versus the Dyip. The Bolts have thrived in recent conferences on the strength of their team-based approach and they should not let this go just because of their import’s presence.
Meralco has a winning formula that works and continuing to implement it instead of letting O’Bryant dominate the ball should yield them better results.
There is still a long way to go in the Commissioner’s Cup, yet the hope is that this win over TerraFirma can spark the Bolts back up the standings. It may not have been the most impressive of wins over the best of opponents, but sometimes all a team needs is the taste of victory to jolt them back into shape.