MANILA, Philippines – Different year, eerily similar story.
A year ago, the Meralco Bolts had won only a single game in the Philippine Cup. Now, not much has changed.
Meralco finished the 2017 PBA Philippine Cup with a 3-8 record, a two-win improvement from last season but still only one spot above last place.
The Bolts' final game of the all-Filipino conference – a new franchise record 47-point obliteration at the hands of the playoff-bound Star Hotshots – was not simply a disappointing loss, it was also a devastating blow to their individual and collective psyches.
"It's embarrassing," veteran Jared Dillinger said, expressing his dismay. "Ending the conference like this, whether we're already out of the playoffs or not, is something that we cannot allow ourselves to come to the game and not be ready like that."
"Something like this (loss), it's gonna stick all the way up to the next conference. And this is the second year in a row in the all-Filipino that we finished dead last and have to look ourselves in the mirror and see if this is something that we wanna do," Dillinger lamented further.
"We come to a game like this and lose by 40 plus, it says something and it just goes back to us. We're gonna have to stick together, we're gonna have to work hard. This whole thing is unacceptable."
Meralco was scorched by Star's 17 3-pointers on Saturday, January 28, and fell behind by as much as 55 points early in the fourth quarter. It would have been the Hotshots' all-time biggest winning margin had they held on to it but instead settled for the 120-73 rout.
It is now the Bolts' worst loss, eclipsing a 44-point 139-95 beating against Rain or Shine over 5 years ago.
"Same way I evaluated last year – bad. Disappointing," was coach Norman Black's curt assessment of the team.
Even after a strong turnaround that brought Meralco to a franchise-first finals appearance during the Governors' Cup at the end of the season, the team's struggles without a hulking import covering up the hole in the middle haunted them anew.
The addition of rookie guards Ed Daquioag and Jonathan Grey was certainly not enough to bolster the team's thin frontline.
Parallels abound from last year's Philippine Cup, but this particular showing has punched the Bolts hard in the gut – and Dillinger admitted the feeling may not ebb away soon.
"It's a collection. It's not one or two guys, it's everyone," Dillinger answered when asked to point out the potential problem. "Now is not the time to be pointing fingers. It all starts with looking at yourself first. What did you do, what did you not do that could've helped the team get better?"
"I think that's what we need to do. We need to look at ourselves first before trying to point fingers and thinking, 'Oh it's this guy's fault or this is why we lost.' It's about taking accountability and looking at yourself," he added.
The Bolts will have a few weeks to reflect on the past few months since their finals romp, and how best to approach the upcoming Commissioner's Cup where they will have an import to bolster them again.
Black said the search for imports has already commenced and they're looking for one that can match the two Best Imports they had last season for the mid-season conference and the Governors' Cup.
There are no planned player movements among locals for now.
If choosing optimism, Dillinger hopes this performance and experience will resonate deep with the Bolts and fuel them for the rest of the year.
"If there are guys in there who don't care about losing like that, it will blow on the team. Plain and simple," he said. "This is our livelihood, this is our job and it's unacceptable." – Rappler.com