1 team. 2 games. 8 quarters. 5 overtime periods. I don't know how the Meralco Bolts managed to walk back to their dugout, as opposed to being carried off the court, right after a double-overtime loss to B-Meg Derby Ace last December 17. Judging from Mac Cardona's energetic chest-beating display late in the second half, I was sure the Bolts could play three more extension periods if they had to.
Granted, Cardona is a coach's wildcard. He will either make you smile or drive you insane. It is what it is. But during games that never end, he's exactly the kind of player you want leading the team. If, at times, Cardona plays without a sense of order - hoisting one funky shot after another, exerting more energy shooting teardrops than playing honest defense, there are more times when he plays without a sense of fear, and in Meralco's past two games, without a sense of time. In other words, si Cardona, walang takot at walang kapaguran. These are Captain Hook trademarks.
Cardona now leads a team built around energy guys. There's Mac. There's Bitoy. There's Ross. You have to like how Meralco built its current roster during the conference. New acquisitions Mark Isip and Reed Juntilla give Ryan Gregorio more stability on the floor and extra scoring options during crunchtime.
Meanwhile, the tandem of Gabby Espinas and Hans Thiele will force any opposing frontline to move faster, breathe harder during games. They run. They score. They rebound. They chase loose-balls. They play with purpose. Allow me to say this again: Espinas is Meralco's Paul Millsap. Thiele, meantime, is Harvey Carey on a South Beach Diet.
I can imagine Gregorio's euphoria in no longer needing to rely on the emergency twin-tower combo of Asi and Marlou. And he can explain that euphoria in about 10 to 12 sentences without the benefit of a script.
Thus, with a re-engineered roster, the Bolts almost won a double-overtime game after winning a triple-overtime contest less than 48 hours before. You can't manufacture that kind of effort. But a coach can certainly sign-up players who have the potential to make it happen.
While Meralco's endurance is as kilometric as Gregorio's quotable quotes (we really should have a Ryan Gregorio vs Chot Reyes soundbite-showdown one of these days), B-Meg Derby Ace's backcourt can probably generate enough power to sustain the lights and airconditioning inside the Big Dome. Simon had 35 points. James had 27. Jonas had 18. It's no wonder Cardona (who guarded James) and Ross (who guarded Simon) had to play at least 41 minutes each, using up precious energy to defend B-Meg's perimeter game.
When the teams meet for Game 2 of their Best-of-3 Quarterfinal Series, Meralco's endurance should no longer be the issue. It'll be James Yap vs Mac Cardona (and they were feisty against each other in Game 1). It'll be Peter June Simon, B-Meg's hottest scorer, versus the quick hands and feet of Chris Ross (a match-up Alex Compton likes...a lot). But just in case the game needs an extra 5 or 55 minutes, we already know they'll have the fortitude to try and win it. MH