Meralco Bolts

Why The Meralco Bolts’ Epic Philippine Cup Title Is One For The Books

The Bolts weren’t given much of a chance against the mighty San Miguel Beermen, but they pulled off an upset for the ages in dramatic fashion.

The Meralco Bolts clinched their first PBA championship on Sunday night after a dramatic 80-78 victory over the favored San Miguel Beermen that wrapped up their best-of-seven series four games to two. 

It was an epic title run, capped by the game-clinching jumper from Chris Newsome with 1.3 seconds left. What made it even more special was they came very close to not even making the Philippine Cup playoffs.

The Bolts lost three of their first four games and were 3-5 at one point of the elimination round, in real danger of missing the eight-team quarterfinals. But they turned it around just in time, winning five in a row to somehow book a seat in the semifinals, where they overhauled a 3-2 deficit in the best-of seven semifinals against longtime nemesis Barangay Ginebra San Miguel to improbably make it to the finals against heavy favorites and defending champions San Miguel Beermen.

In the finals, Meralco could have easily been up 3-0 if it weren’t for a late collapse in Game 2. And even though the Beermen fought back to tie the series a 2-2, there was no denying the Bolts, who swept the final two games to win their first-ever PBA title since joining the league in 2010.

But the Beermen made them sweat for a while. With 5.6 seconds left, the Bolts were protecting a 78-75 lead. They were just one defensive stop away from the title, when June Mar Fajardo, of all people, picked up an inbounds pass from Simon Enciso, stepped back to beyond the 3-point arc, and incredibly buried a triple to tie the game. It was just his second triple in the entire tournament, and first since their opening game.

“The last play (of San Miguel), we were in shock,” Bolts active consultant Nenad Vucinic admitted. “We were in shock but we got it together.”

Newsome, who was guarding Fajardo and challenged the shot as best he could, couldn’t believe the shot went in.

“It was unbelievable, actually. Kind of replaying it in my head, it seemed like it was in slow motion. For him to dribble it out and to get the ball and for him to release it, it felt like the ball was in the air for a good 10 seconds and then swak pa! It didn’t even hit anything. It was a great shot by Abai, man.”

Cliff Hodge, the longest-tenured Bolt who finally won his first championship, said Fajardo was already congratulating him before making that shot.

“The play before, we were at the free throw line, and June Mar was already congratulating me. So I was like, yeah, we got it. Then he came down and hit the biggest shot ever.”

Luckily for the Bolts, Newsome came to the rescue and saved the day.

There are several reasons why this championship is historic for Meralco. Here are some of them.

Breakthrough PBA title

As mentioned earlier, this is the franchise’s first PBA title since joining the league in 2010. According to PBA statistician Fidel Mangonon III, it’s also the first time a franchise won its first title in its fifth championship series. The Bolts had earlier lost in the finals of the 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021 Governors’ Cup.

It’s also the longest a franchise has gone – 14 seasons – before winning its first PBA title.

First title for the company since 1971

This isn’t Meralco’s first foray into organized basketball. The company once had a team in the old Manila Industrial and Commercial Athletic Association (MICAA) where they won the 1971 Open as the Meralco Reddy Kilowatts. Among the team’s players were future PBA stars Robert Jaworski, Sr. and Francis Arnaiz.

That was their first and only MICAA title. The following year, the team was disbanded in the wake of the declaration of Martial Law and the seizing of the company from the Lopez family by the government.

It took 53 years, but Meralco once again has a champion basketball team.

Major upset

No one really gave the Bolts much of a chance against the mighty Beermen, who were gunning for their 30th title after rampaging through most of the tournament like a freight train. SMB went 10-1 in the eliminations and 5-1 in the first two rounds of the playoffs.

In hindsight, though, the Bolts had already left their calling card early on: they were the only team to beat the Beermen in the elimination round.

Still, the mere presence of Best Player of the Conference June Mar Fajardo, who averaged 23.2 points and 16.2 rebounds in the finals, was enough to install the Beermen as favorites. So when the scoreboard read Meralco 93, San Miguel 86 at the end of Game 1, not a few eyebrows were raised.

The Beermen escaped with a 1-point win in Game 2, but after the Bolts repeated with a low-scoring win in Game 3, everything was started to trend in their direction. Only once did SMB score more than 100 points, and their 78 points in Game 6 was their lowest single-game output this season.

Upsetting the applecart

From 2009 to 2023, the Philippine Cup title had changed hands among just four teams: San Miguel, Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, TNT Tropang Giga, and Magnolia/San Mig Coffee/Purefoods. The defunct Sta. Lucia Realtors in 2008 were the last team outside these four to have hoisted the Philippine Cup trophy.

The Bolts broke through and became the first team since the Realtors to break the four-team stranglehold.

First titles for Newsome, Hodge, Caram

Cliff Hodge was selected by the Bolts fourth overall in the 2012 rookie draft. A year later, the team picked Anjo Caram 26th overall. Then in 2015, they added Chris Newsome with the fourth overall selection.

These three players have known no other PBA team in their professional careers. Hodge is the franchise leader in games played, while Newsome is its all-time leading scorer. Caram is one of just four players (Newsome, Hodge, Reynel Hugnatan) to have played at least 300 games with the Bolts.

Now, all three can call themselves PBA champions.

Luigi Trillo now 2-0 vs. SMC teams in finals

This is just the second PBA title for Bolts head coach Luigi Trillo. He first won one in the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup, leading the Alaska Aces past Barangay Ginebra 3-1. That makes him unbeaten in two finals series as a head coach, with both wins coming against teams belonging to the SMC group.

Banner images from PBA Media Bureau.

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