For all that talk about how the East Asia Super League (EASL) has benefitted from the exposure it gets from the Philippines, winning has eluded the PBA teams who were sent to represent the country.
The San Miguel Beermen, the TNT Tropang Giga, and the Meralco Bolts suffered losses against teams from Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan, with each defeat only increasing calls for reforms in Philippine basketball. While those calls have merits, the Tropang Giga and the Bolts still have to play their remaining games in the 2023-2024 EASL Season. For Meralco, though, a breakthrough win could not have come at a better time.
A month ago, the Ryukyu Golden Kings, the reigning B.League champions, dealt the Bolts an 89-61 loss that left a bad taste in their mouths. A month later, Meralco went to Macau to face the Golden Kings and unlike their last game, this one was much closer. Ryukyu led by no more than seven points, with both the Golden Kings and the Bolts both taking the lead at certain points in the game.
Ryukyu looked to have the game in hand after knocking down crucial baskets to give them an 80-76 lead with 15 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Normally, a lead like that with that much time left in the game gives the team ahead a winning probability in the 90s and it may have become a reality if not for Chris Newsome.
Newsome hit two 3-pointers to tie the game twice in the final seconds to send the game into overtime. With those two shots, Newsome and Meralco snuffed the life out of the Golden Kings, who could only watch the Bolts pull away in the extra period.
It’s quite a milestone victory for Meralco, who were tapped to replace the Barangay Ginebra Gin Kings two months before opening their campaign against Ryukyu. The Bolts took that opening loss in stride, dropping a close affair with the P.League runners-up New Taipei Kings before exacting their revenge against the Golden Kings.
Moreover, there has been little turnover within the roster compared to sister teams TNT and the NLEX Road Warriors. That familiarity has helped Meralco remain unfazed for the most part, and it reflected in their execution during the crucial stages of the game. Looking ahead, it would certainly bode well for the Bolts’ future in the EASL and in the PBA.
Going forward,there are three games left on Meralco’s EASL schedule, with a rematch with the Kings and a home-and-away series against the Seoul SK Knights. Of course, the Bolts are juggling this EASL campaign with their stint in the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup, where they are currently 5-1. Meralco’s efforts in the Commissioner’s Cup certainly had an impact on their performance in the EASL and sustaining the effort in one will definitely have some benefits in the other. Navigating through their schedule and managing any injuries that come their way will also be critical to the Bolts’ pursuit of more wins.
The Meralco Bolts got a historical win in the East Asia Super League after outlasting the Ryukyu Golden Kings and the hope that this is the first of many. Their current campaign in the 2023-2024 PBA Commissioner’s Cup has been a boon, but looking at the bigger picture, the stability within the franchise has helped the Bolts secure something none of their peers have been able to achieve: a win on the international stage.