This was a winnable game for the Meralco Bolts.

For much of their East Asia Super League game against the New Taipei Kings, the Bolts were able to convert on most of their scoring opportunities from inside the 3-point line. In fact, they were able to stay close to the Kings despite not having Chris Newsome and Aaron Black.

However, New Taipei still came away with an 89-77 victory.

Ball movement was key to the Kings’ victory as they patiently broke down Meralco’s defense for easy baskets. New Taipei’s offensive rebounds were also critical in their 11-0 run in the third quarter and proved to be painful for the Bolts, especially when they resulted in 3-pointers from Jeremy Lin.

The Kings also understood the impact of Meralco’s guards, who created scoring opportunities for their teammates and found nifty ways to score. New Taipei frequently deployed double-teams when the Bolts’ guards were in the corners or after dribble-handoffs, disrupting Meralco’s flow and taking precious time off the shot clock. The Kings made the Bolts a victim of their aggression on both ends of the floor and the frustration was eventually evident from Meralco’s side, as highlighted by the technical foul called on Zach Lofton.

Moreover, the little things like running back on defense and quickly moving to cover the perimeter were a great help for New Taipei in negating the Bolts’ transition offense. In some instances, there were open Meralco players in the corner, but the Kings did enough to make their Bolts teammates think twice about making those crosscourt passes. Anytime Meralco’s point guards circled back in a fastbreak was also a win for New Taipei.

Any hope for a spot in the EASL postseason may have been dashed, but the Bolts can use the lessons from the EASL campaign towards a better finish in the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, where they are 6-2 with a chance to secure the top seed in the postseason. However, Meralco will have only a couple of days to regroup before traveling to Iloilo City on Saturday to square off against the current league leaders in the Magnolia Hotshots.

The Hotshots have an uber-import in Tyler Bey and they have a trio of skilled guards in Paul Lee, Mark Barroca, and Jio Jalalon. The Bolts were able to somewhat neutralize the Kings’ imports, but New Taipei’s perimeter players proved more dangerous and sparked the run that handed the win to the Kings. Magnolia’s guards could be as potent, so deploying the same pressure New Taipei gave them could be of help to Meralco.

The Meralco Bolts let a potential victory over the New Taipei Kings slip away and with it went away their East Asia Super League postseason chances. All is not lost, however, as they can turn this setback into something useful for the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup campaign, where they have more favorable chances of making a long playoff run.