The two semifinal match-ups of the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup are now tied at 2-1 after a pair of one-sided Game 3 wins.
The Meralco Bolts avoided falling into a 3-0 deficit with a 91-86 win over the Magnolia Pambansang Manok Hotshots that was not as close as the final score suggests. In the following game, the TNT Tropang Giga rode a hot start and blew out the San Miguel Beermen, 115-98, in a contest that was seemingly over by halftime.
Magnolia started out with a 2-0 lead, but the Bolts quickly went on a run and would not relinquish their advantage for the rest of the afternoon. The odds were seemingly stacked up against Meralco, who were without their starting center Raymond Almazan following an ankle injury in the previous game.
Reynel Hugnatan replaced Almazan in the starting line-up, yet it was back-up big man Nonoy Baclao who filled the void and stepped up in his place. The 34-year-old Baclao, the first overall pick in the 2010 PBA Draft, played 26 minutes and put up 10 points on five-of-six shooting from the field while providing them with a stable presence inside.
Meralco built an 18-point edge early in the fourth quarter before Magnolia embarked on a last push that ultimately fell short.
Magnolia cut the lead to three, 89-86, with 28 seconds remaining in the match off a lay-up by Rafi Reavis which were his only two points of the game. With the pressure mounting, Chris Newsome stepped up and drained a mid-range jumper with just 6.5 seconds left to play that gave them a five-point lead and sealed the victory.
Newsome and Mac Belo were their usual brilliant selves for the Bolts, with the former tallying 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists while the latter came off the bench to chip in with 14 points, and five rebounds.
However, the difference-maker was Nard Pinto whose energy early in the match sparked the initial Meralco run. Pinto finished with 16 points, five rebounds, two assists, and four threes.
Paul Lee (18 points), Ian Sangalang (15 points and seven rebounds), and Calvin Abueva (12 points and seven rebounds) all had decent showings, but none of them particularly stood out in Game 3. The missing link for Magnolia was Mark Barroca who scored only two points on one-of-nine shooting from the field.
In the next game of the day’s slate, the Tropang Giga started off with an 11-0 run. Their starting center Poy Erram hit three consecutive three-pointers over that stretch and they did not look back from that point on. Those were the only threes that the 6’8 Erram would make, though he wound up finishing with 21 points, 13 rebounds, and three steals.
He was one of three Tropang Giga who scored at least 20 points in the resounding victory. RR Pogoy continued his spectacular series and led all scorers with 26 points plus he also had three assists and four steals. Mikey Williams added 20 points, five rebounds, and five assists as the star rookie finally broke free from the shackles of San Miguel’s defense to churn out his best game of the semifinals so far.
The other two Tropang Giga starters, Troy Rosario and Kib Montalbo, added 14 and 11 points, respectively, in addition to their usual menacing defense. It was that end of the floor that spelled the difference for TNT as both teams finished with almost identical statistics except for two glaring outliers–the Tropang Giga had more steals (13-3) and the Beermen had double the turnovers (24-12).
San Miguel still managed to have five players score in double digits, but their lackadaisical start was too much to overcome in what turned into a rather uneventful evening. TNT led by double digits throughout the entire second half and their advantage ballooned to as much as 23 points in the fourth quarter.