MACMAC Cardona picked up from where he left off, scoring 25 points for the second straight game and spiking it all up with his usual on-court antics.
Chris Ross, however, had the biggest shot of the night and helped Meralco realize a 93-84 win over Rain or Shine Sunday, the Bolts' second straight victory that kept alive alive their hopes of crashing the Top 6 which will advance to the playoffs at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
"We're playing through incredible instincts right now. We know what's at stake, which is survival, so our goal is to pretty much leave everything on the floor," said Bolts head coach Ryan Gregorio.
Ross made it all happen. Not known to be a shooter, especially from long distance, Ross buried one from deep right that pointed his team to a 3-4 win-loss slate overall.
The Bolts wind up the nine-game eliminations against Barako Bull and Air21 and Gregorio said they will just try and play the way they've been playing of late.
"One guarantee is, we will continue to leave everything on the floor," he stated. "Whether we will win is reward enough for us."
While Meralco moved up to seventh, Rain or Shine remained in the cellar with its third straight loss and a 1-5 slate. The Elasto Painters now need to sweep their remaining games against Air21, B-MEG and leader Talk N Text to fan their own flickering hopes of tying and playing off for the last spot in the quarterfinals.
Leading those digging the deep hole for Rain or Shine was Earl Barron with his 29 points and 22
rebounds but it was Cardona who again hogged most of the limelight by scoring 11 of his points in the fourth quarter that helped stymie the E-Painters' comeback.
Along the way, Cardona was also taunting those who futilely tried to defend him and silencing those among the estimated 16,000 fans booing him every time he touched the ball.
For the prolific guard-forward, it was just his way of letting off steam, aside from scoring on a variety of shots.
"Sanay ako sa crowd na maingay," he maintained. "Mas maingay mas lumalabas talaga laro ko. Emotional ako kaya du'n ko na lang ginagamit. At saka kailangan i-shutdown ang crowd."
Reynel Hugnatan chipped in 16 points after making his first seven shots from the field, including back-to-back long jumpers that highlighted the Bolts' charge to as much as a 66-44 spread in the third period.
Duke Crews went into the game averaging 30.6 points and was held way below that with just 21 on
4-for-13 field shooting. Paul Lee scored all his 13 points in the third period while Ronjay Buenafe added 12, all in the fourth.
Despite those second half explosions by the E-Painters' guards, Gregorio said he was completely
satisfied with his team's follow-up to its 89-80 win over Barangay Ginebra last Wednesday, for their first back-to-back wins in the conference.
"The thing that is really making us successful at this point is the way we're playing defense. We've limited our last two opponents to just 82 points on the average and that's the kind of defensive intensity we want to be defined for," noted Gregorio.
Gabe Norwood's follow-up of his own miss and Crews' last two charities capped Rain or Shine's
comeback and made it just an 84-87 game, still a full minute left. But that was the closest the
E-Painters got as they were held scoreless the rest of the way.
Save for the near-endgame collapse Meralco's game was clicking along just fine, especially at the start of the second half as Cardona, Hugnatan and Barron mainly presided over a massive 19-5
onslaught that enabled them to pad a 47-39 spread.
The E-Painters paid dearly for a listless start that saw them open up the game going 1-for-5 and
committing three turnovers to trail by 2-15. (NC)
MERALCO 93 - Barron 29, Cardona 25, Hugnatan 16, Espinas 12, Ross 5, Mercado 4, Macapagal 2,
Timberlake 0, Borboran 0, Taulava 0.
RAIN OR SHINE 84 - Crews 21, Lee 13, Buenafe 12, Norwood 8, Quinahan 8, Cruz 4, Chan 4, Ibanes 4, Matias 3, Belga 3, Tang 2, Arana 2.
Quarterscores: 30-18, 47-39, 72-61, 93-84