I used air quotes with the word surprising only to raise the ultimate question that this article is centered on.
Is this 5-0 run by the Bolts really “surprising”?
Let’s beat down the facts of this 5-game winning streak first.
The Meralco Bolts are currently 5-0 with wins over Star Hotshots, Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters, Rain or Shine Elasto Painters, Phoenix Fuel Masters, and Global Port Batang Pier.
That is quite an impressive hit list.
The Bolts have won each game with their newly found affection for defense, which has been wreaking havoc on the PBA. Throughout the past two season, the Bolts have never been considered as an elite level defensive team. The past four conferences have had the Bolts pegged somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of Defensive Rating (aside from the past Philippine Cup, which we will talk about later).
We’ve gone through five games of the Commissioner’s Cup and here is where the Bolts are ranked:
1st in Defensive Rating (95.5)
1st in Opponent eFG% (45.6%)
1st in Defensive Rebounding Rate (78.3%)
Those numbers lead the PBA in quite a large margin with Ginebra in 2nd place at 99.4, 48.0%, 73.1%.
In conclusion, the Bolts have been really stingy with points this conference and it’s rewarded them with a seat at the head of the PBA Table.
The reason behind this change has been pretty simple to evaluate. The Bolts didn’t make any trades, so it’s pretty easy to pinpoint this to the addition of import, Arinze Onuaku. The big Orangeman has provided the Bolts with the big body that they have needed and it’s shown in the standings. Onuaku leads the PBA in Defensive Win Shares (0.6) and Defensive Ratings (89.9). He’s been able to seal the paint and stop the opposing teams from attempting and scoring second chance points.
Onuaku has also been catalyst for the Bolts offense as well, not only because of his efficient scoring (66.7 eFG%) but also because of his IQ and ability to pass out of the post.
One guy who has benefited from this is Jared Dillinger. In this conference, Dillinger has been attempting 3.6 threes per game and has made 1.8 per game, both highs in the past 3 years. A majority of his shots have been in the corner with a fair amount of space after Onuaku sucked in the defense with his presence.
Having Onuaku has also released the true powers of Kelly Nabong and Bryan Faundo, both who have been able to be efficiently used as bruising defensive stoppers now that they a legitimate big man in the paint.
It would be pretty unfair to the entire Bolts team to say that this turnaround is centered by the arrival of Onuaku, but that statement wouldn’t be far from the truth. Onuaku has made the Bolts a stronger team, not because of his individual dominance, but because everyone else can adjust to their more efficient roles with him on the team.
But wait… was that even surprising?
Sure, the Bolts had a horrific Philippine Cup to start Season 41. They managed only 1 win (against a Star team that had been struggling as much as the Bolts had been) while having the second worst defense and offense, according to offensive and defensive ratings.
But then again, that was a team that had just traded away a couple of its biggest contributors (Sean Anthony, Mike Cortez) while adding 2 guys who were instantly plugged into big roles (Chris Newsome, Jimmy Alapag).
That conference was surprising. Not this Commissioner’s Cup where they are notching off 5 straight wins.
Wait, doesn’t that sentence seem quite familiar?
Let’s take look back to last year in the Commissioner’s Cup. The Bolts had signed up Josh Davis as an import for the conference and he turned out to be a workhorse on defense and on the boards. He was not as an efficient scorer as Onuaku, but his hustle created a lot more offensive looks for the Bolts.
And the Bolts ripped open the conference for 5 straight wins as well. I think that some of the Bolts players might be wondering to themselves:
“Why does this all seems so familiar? Is this Deja Vu?”
No, it is not, hypothetical Bolts player. This is really happening all over again.
That win streak in 2015 was halted by the San Miguel Beermen. The Bolts will be playing the Beermen once again in 2016 with a 5 winning streak on the line.
Oh, how I love how fate brings everything to full circle.
That brings us to the more important question: Can the Bolts keep on winning this time?
After that 5-game winning streak in 2015, the Bolts lost to the Beermen and were never the same again. They lost 5 of the remaining 6 games, including a disappointing loss to Blackwater Elite in the very last game of the conference.
Can they keep rolling this time around?
Let’s take a look at who the Bolts have beaten this conference again:
Star Hotshots (1-4, last) with a struggling Denzel Bowles
Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters (2-3, 9th) in a game where import Ivan Johnson was ejected and almost banned from the PBA (read more about that here)
Rain or Shine (1-3, 11th) in a game where Rain or Shine were without Paul Lee and import Wayne Chism was have to leave because of injury and would be replaced later on
Phoenix Fuel Masters (1-2, 10th) in what would be import Andrew Adeleke’s last game before getting replaced by Kevin Pickney
Global Port Batang Pier (2-3, 8th) in a game where Global Port would be without an injured Stanley Pringle and (if the rumors are true) import Calvin Warner’s last game before getting replaced by Royce White
The Bolts beat the 5 teams at the bottom of the PBA table, 2 of whom were playing without their imports for almost half of the entire game, another 2 who decided after the game that their imports weren’t good enough, and another really struggling team trying to get it together.
Update: It seems like Royce White might not be joining Global Port after all… but Denzel Bowles will have to leave Star on personal issues.
Not to take anything away from those victories, of course. Wins are wins and the Bolts won the games that they should have won. However, it must be of some concern that they were able to win with only an average margin of 5 points.
Let’s think about that again.
The Bolts were only able to beat Talk ‘N Text by only 4 points after letting the shorthanded Texters back into the game with a furious run.
Despite having a 23-point lead at one point, the Bolts were able to beat a Chism-less Rain Or Shine by only 3 points.
RR Garcia shot 5-22 from the field and the Bolts still only managed a one point win over Phoenix.
Terrance Romeo had an off-day (going for only 4-14) yet the Bolts needed a late game run to take the victory.
Maybe you could say that this is how champions win games. As a Bolts fan, that’s what I’d like to believe. But for as much praise their defense has deserved, their offense has kept things skeptical. I’m concerned as to how much longer a team that is logging the second worst offensive rating (99.9) and worst effective field goal percentage (47.2 eFG%) can keep continue their winning ways.
Especially now that they will be facing a formidable San Miguel Beermen team, you can’t help but be reminded of this particular scene, once again from the Batman vs. Superman trailer:
The Bolts have been a really fun team to watch in this conference. The hustle and athleticism of Newsome, Hodge, and Dillinger is always a fun spectacle. This has been my first time seeing Ken Bono play in the PBA and it has been inspiring to see him as the guy that the bench cheers on every time he gets the ball. Watching Onuaku pace himself and walking up on offense has been one of the comical highlights of this season.
For me, it’s refreshing to see the Bolts come away with a 5-0 start to season. They’ve deserved it.
But the season is only going to go uphill from here.
Can they keep piling up the wins? Sure they can, but it’s not going to be easy at all.