THERE will be one more game for Meralco and Barangay Ginebra.
A do-or-die match, to be exact.
Veteran Reynel Hugnatan and Raymond Almazan made it happen.
Hugnatan nailed the game-winning basket with 15 seconds left to lift Meralco to a heart-stopping 83-80 win over Ginebra in Game 4 of the PBA Philippine Cup semifinal showdown at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF) Sports Arena in Pampanga.
But while Hugnatan shone brightest on the offensive floor, Almazan did it on the defensive end.
Almazan blocked what looked like a sure basket by Stanley Pringle of Ginebra in the final eight seconds to preserve Meralco’s dramatic, series-tying victory.
A driving lay-up by Chris Newsome with three seconds remaining after Almazan’s defensive gem finalized the score.
LA Tenorio tried to send the game into overtime but his heave past half-court fell a tad short.
“The challenge going to the next game is to be a little ahead of them. So far, we’ve always been reacting,” said Meralco coach Norman Black after the game.
“Just like in our battle with San Miguel, we have to win two games to move to the next stage. We’re halfway through,” said Black, who is hoping to duplicate their feat against San Miguel Beer in the quarterfinals.
With the win, Meralco tied the best-of-five semifinal showdown at two games apiece and forged a deciding Game 5 on Friday.
Game 5 is set at 6:30 p.m.on on Friday, Nov. 27.
Hugnatan finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting, and added four rebounds and four assists in less than 29 minutes of action.
Newsome also stepped up big for the Bolts, finishing with a double-double of 16 points and 11 rebounds while playing almost without relief for 39:47 minutes.
Cliff Hodge added 16 points and Almazan contributed 11 points and the game-changing block on Pringle.
Allein Maliksi had eight points.
Pringle led the way for the Gin Kings with 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals in nearly 35 minutes.
But Pringle, the Gin Kings’ newest go-to-guy, struggled with only 7-of-19 shooting in a losing effort.
Jared Dillinger had 15 points, Scottie Thompson had 13 points, nine rebounds and five assists and Japeth Aguilar had 12 points, 12 rebounds, four assists and two big blocks in the closing minutes.
Most Improved Player candidate Prince Caperal and Tenorio were limited to eight points apiece on a combined 6-of-13 shooting from the field.
Meralco led by as many as 15 points, 46-31, on a pull-up jumper by Maliksi at the start of the third period.
But the Gin Kings came charging back with an 11-1 blast to threaten at 42-47.
Another 9-2 run capped by Dillinger’s three-pointer finally put Ginebra ahead, 51-50, with 4:17 left in the third quarter.
In all, Ginebra outscored Meralco, 33-16, in the third period to turn the game around.
Ginebra shot better from the floor with 43 percent on 32-of-73 shooting against Meralco’s 39 percent on 35-of-89.
The Gin Kings also had more rebounds, 56-40, and more assists, 21-20.
But the Gin Kings turned the ball over 23 times against only eight by the Bolts.
This proved enough for Meralco.
Meralco (83) — Hugnatan 19, Hodge 16, Newsome 16, Almazan 11, Maliksi 8, Amer 4, Pinto 3, Black 2, Jamito 2, Quinto 2, Jackson 0, Caram 0.
Ginebra (80) — Pringle 18, Dillinger 15, Thompson 13, Aguilar 12, Caperal 8, Tenorio 8, Mariano 6, Devance 0, Tolentino 0.
Quarterscores: 26-21, 44-31, 60-64, 83-80.