ROOKIE Calvin Oftana saved the day as NLEX brought down Meralco, 81-80, and forced a do-or-die encounter in their quarterfinal duel in the 2021 PBA Philippine Cup at the Don Honorio Ventura State University in Bacolor, Pampanga.
Oftana received a perfectly-timed pass from Jericho Cruz and eluded Meralco counterpart Bong Quinto to deliver the game-winning basket — a layup — with 6.1 seconds left.
Meralco still had a chance to snatch the win, but Cliff Hodge’s desperation three-pointer missed its target.
“Yeah, that [final play] was intended for him. It went exactly as we planned it,” said NLEX head coach Yeng Guiao after the game.
Before Oftana’s heroics, Meralco forward Mac Belo missed two crucial free throws that would have given them a three-point cushion.
The knockout game between the Bolts and the Road Warriors for a semis berth is scheduled on Friday, October. 1.
Anthony Semerad led the way for NLEX with a season-high 23 points, one away from his career-best.
Later, top seed Talk N Text slammed the door on Barangay Ginebra, 84’71.
Meanwhile, No. 3 Magnolia Pambansang Manok and No. 4 San Miguel Beer gun for semifinals berths when they take on Rain or Shine and NorthPort, respectively.
The Hotshots seek a repeat of their 81-70 victory over the Elasto Painters to advance to the semifinals for the first time in almost two years.
Paul Lee, Ian Sangalang, Jio Jalalon and Calvin Abueva are again expected to carry the fight as the Hotshots try to finish off the E-Painters in their best-of-three encounter.
Lee topscored with 20 points, while Sangalang added a doubel-double of 19 points and 13 rebounds in the series opener.
“It’s about working hard, fighting for the 50-50 balls, hustling. We have to do all these to meet our goal of going deeper into the playoffs again,” said Magnolia coach Chito Victolero, pointing to the Hotshots’ 66-43 advantage in rebounds and 21 second-chance points.
Victolero is wary of the E-Painters’ fight back and reminded the Hotshots about their low-scoring 72-75 loss to the same team during the elimination round.
In the other quarterfinal game, San Miguel is also looking for back-to-back victory over NorthPort to book a semis ticket.
A last-second basket by Alex Cabagnot enabled the Beermen to escape with a dramatic 88-87 thriller over the Batang Pier and coach Leo Austria feels another close game awaits fans of both teams.
Austria said his team’s focus is on how to finish off NorthPort.
“May heightened sense of urgency ang kalaban. Gagawa’t gagawa ng paraan sila para makabawi, “said Austria.
“Very dangerous talaga itong NorthPort. Sinuwerte lang talaga kami that game,” added Austria.
NLEX (81) – Semerad 23, Trollano 12, Oftana 12, Cruz 10, Alas 9, Miranda 5, Soyud 4, Quiñahan 4, Paniamogan 2, Ighalo 0.
Meralco (80) – Maliksi 16, Belo 12, Quinto 11, Hugnatan 11, Caram 9, Newsome 7, Almazan 6, Hodge 6, Pasaol 2, Pinto 0, Baclao 0.
Quarterscores: 20-26, 44-42, 63-64, 81-80.
Talk N Text (84) – Pogoy 16, Rosario 15, M. Williams 11, Montalbo 10, Erram 9, Castro 7, Khobuntin 5, K. Williams 4, Heruela 3, Reyes 2, Marcelo 2, Exciminiano 0, Alejandro 0, Javier 0, Mendoza 0.
Barangay Ginebra (71) – Standhardinger 17, Pringle 15, Tenorio 9, Ayaay 9, Chan 5, Devance 5, Dillinger 4, Caperal 4, Mariano 3, Salado 0, Tolentino 0
Quarterscores: 17-21; 39-33; 66-49; 84-71.