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Banchero’s Return Sparks Hope for Bolts’ Future Victory

Chris Banchero’s vital performance in his season debut Sunday has sparked some sense of optimism in Meralco’s campaign at home and on foreign soil.

“It’s nice to see guys start coming in because we know what we’re capable of when they’re here,” Bolts coach Luigi Trillo said after the Bolts’ 109-95 win over the TNT Tropang Giga in the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) Commissioner’s Cup.

“When you have a deeper bench against the stronger teams, that’s gonna help us out,” added Trillo after Meralco improved to 3-1 at PhilSports Arena in Pasig City, where Banchero came away with 18 points and four assists after skipping the first three games due to a hamstring problem.

Meanwhile, Barangay Ginebra was pushed to the limit by lowly Blackwater before pulling out a 90-87 win in the nightcap.

Tony Bishop Jr. scored 25 points and led three other Gin Kings in twin digits as Ginebra claimed a piece of second place with the Bolts and idle Phoenix.

Banchero’s appearance came at an important time as Meralco has been dealing with the absence of key players like Aaron Black and Allein Maliksi.

Maliksi missed his second straight game due to a broken nose, while Black has a knee problem that will keep him out for two more weeks, according to Trillo.

They’ll also be out on Wednesday when the Bolts head to Taiwan to face former New York Knick Jeremy Lin and the New Taipei Kings in the East Asia Super League (EASL).

Weapons for the road

Meralco, clobbered by the Ryukyu Golden Kings with just one import the last time it played the continental tourney, will have two foreign players this time in Prince Ibeh and Zach Lofton, who was tapped with its Commissioner’s Cup import Su Braimoh unavailable to once again secure a visa entry.

Braimoh had 37 points, 10 rebounds, three steals and two blocks for the Bolts in defeating the Tropang Giga and spoiling Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s PBA high 47-point output.

“You like to bring two big imports [for the EASL], but at this time [having Lofton who’s a dynamic guard] might be good for us because we’re lacking guards.”

Key baskets by Banchero in the fourth plus his tough defending enabled Meralco to preserve the win despite attempts by Hollis-Jefferson and TNT to mount a comeback.

Banchero has been hounded by injuries since he signed with the Bolts as an unrestricted free agent in February 2022.

But the way he performed against one of the league’s elite teams is something Meralco hopes would be the norm, not a rarity.

“I’ve been rehabbing as hard as I can so I can help the team,” said Banchero as Meralco doomed TNT to 2-2. INQ