Meralco import KJ McDaniels. –PBA IMAGES
It seemed like everything was conspiring against Meralco heading into Friday night.
With just a win to show in six games, the Bolts needed to pump life into their PBA Commissioner’s Cup campaign by taking on the fire-breathing Dragons of Bay Area, who had lost just once in seven previous outings.
Fortunately, a “breath of fresh air” got Meralco going.
The Bolts kept it together in the most critical moments to outlast the Dragons, 92-89 and pocket a much-needed victory at Smart Araneta Coliseum.
It was only a second win for Meralco, but for coach Norman Black, it was a big boost to a team that needed to stare down a 50-point effort from Bay Area’s Andrew Nicholson.
“It’s something that we talked about: Everything is always possible, right? Even with all the adversity that we’re facing right now,” Black said, referring to the manpower woes hounding the team because of injuries and the failure of original import Johnny O’Bryant to find his groove.
Half of those problems were solved with the arrival of KJ McDaniels, who joined the Bolts in training only last Tuesday. The undersized import figured prominently in the gallant stand, knocking down one tough basket after another and accounting for nine of Meralco’s final 13 points that kept the pace-setting Dragons at bay.
“With KJ coming in, we thought we had like a breath of fresh air and it would give us a chance to win,” Black said of his new ward, who previously played for TNT and NLEX.
Backstopping McDaniels’ 31 points were Raymond Almazan, Allein Maliksi, Chris Banchero and Bong Quinto who all finished in double figures, effectively plugging the production holes left by injured mainstays Chris Newsome and Cliff Hodge.
“Credit to my teammates, they picked me up and they still had confidence in me. They were telling me to keep shooting the ball,” McDaniels said.
“[T]hose guys—they picked me up when I was down throughout the game. It’s a blessing to be back. I’m happy to get a W against a top team,” he went on.
Apart from Nicholson’s 50, the Dragons also drew firepower from Kobey Lam, who chipped in 23 points.
But no other Bay Area player had more than five points.
“One thing I’m happy about … is we actually played defense tonight, which is something we haven’t been doing at all this conference,” Black said.
Meralco may have benefited also from a key missed call in the stretch.
Down three in the last 21 seconds, Bay Area skipper Glen Yang missed a triple which the Bolts rebounded. But Meralco failed to get past the halfcourt line in eight seconds, an infraction the referees missed.