Red-hot Hugnatan sparks Meralco past TNT, closes in on 1st-ever PBA Finals stint

Reynel Hugnatan sparked Meralco’s decisive run inside the final four minutes as the Bolts subdued TNT, 119-113 to move within a win of advancing to the PBA Governors Cup Finals on Saturday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

The left-handed Hugnatan buried back-to-back threes to spark the Bolts’ electrifying 15-6 windup, giving his team a surprising 2-1 lead in their best-of-five semifinal series against the top seed Katropa.

The Bolts will try to finish off the Katropa on Monday to advance to the PBA Finals for the first time ever in franchise history.

“I think this was what I consider a great team effort on Meralco, a lot of contributions from everyone to get this win.  They played really, really well,” Meralco coach Norman Black said after the game.

While no one probably considered the Bolts a championship contender, the multi-titled Black said he’s proud of how every one played their role to complete the stunning win against TNT.

“We need one more (win), another effort like this to realize our dream of making it to the championship round and it came down for us to match every play they made,” shared the 58-year-old former PBA Best Import.

Black, a one-time PBA Grand Slam champion coach, said he was no longer surprised to see Hugnatan bury the crucial triples inside the last four minutes, considering that he’s been making them in practice.

“Rey was given the green light to shoot from the three as far back as the second conference. And he’s actually a pretty good three-point shooter,  no. 1 in the three-point shooting every day in practice among big men,” said Black, whose team missed top wingman Jared Dillinger due to a right hamstring injury.

Allen Durham led the Bolts with 23 points, hauled down 13 rebounds and issued five assists.

The 6-foot-4 Hugnatan, on the other hand added 21 points, lacing his personal conference-high output with 5-of-6 conversion from the three-point arc.

Ace playmaker Jimmy Alapag added 17, while moving within three more three-pointers made to move past PBA legend Allan Caidic in the league’s all-time three-point leader.

Caidic, a former player of Black at San Miguel in the 1990s, currently holds the record 1,242 three-point shots in a 12-year pro career.  Alapag is now closing in with 1,240 after making three more triples in Game 3.

Rookie Chris Newsome chipped in 16 points, including back-to-back in-your-face dunks against TNT import Mychal Ammons and Ranidel de Ocampo early in the final period.

Jayson Castro paced TNT with 28 points and 10 assists. – Richard Dy

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