DRAMATIC GAME 1 FINISH DESERVES AN ENCORE
If this PBA championship series ever goes to a Game 7 the way the 2012 Governors’ Cup Finals did, the timeout called by San Mig Super Coffee coach Tim Cone with 8.7 seconds left in Game 1 Friday night would probably come back to haunt them.
Then again, Cone may have been just trying to shield his point guard from a potential public backlash.
Anyway, two years ago, Rain or Shine bested the San Mig franchise, then known as B-Meg, in the seventh game of their title showdown, denying the Llamados a back-to-back championship while celebrating the Elasto Painters’ first ever crown.
Four conferences later, both franchises are at it again under familiar circumstances: San Mig is gunning for back-to-back championships while Rain or Shine is looking for a second title and the accompanying mind-boggling shot at the Grand Slam.
Now add these individual pursuits to the mix: Cone is eyeing his 16th career title which will take him past the long-standing record of the legendary Baby Dalupan, while Guiao is seeking to wrap his hands around his first Philippine Cup trophy.
See anything dramatic unfolding here?
Maybe, but nothing like the one that transpired in the closing seconds of the opener in the PLDT myDSL PBA Philippine Cup Finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum where fortunes rose and fell at the snap of a ball-handler’s decision.
Rain or Shine won that one, 83-80, but only thinly like a first coat of paint.
After San Mig playmaker Mark Barroca chose to drive to the basket with the game tied, 80-all, instead of trying to work it over to James Yap as Cone had ordered, or to Joe Devance who was open at right, the Elasto Painters sprung to action like a billiards player waiting for his chance at the table.
The defense washed over the former Far Eastern star like a tidal wave and forced him to come up short on a tight, twisted shot. Paul Lee grabbed the miss and called time, bringing the Big Dome crowd on its feet.
The remaining fraction was eventually increased to 1.4 seconds, providing Mixers fans a most ominous sign.
Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao drew a play for his best shooter Jeff Chan, tasking long-limbed Gabe Norwood to inbound the ball from in front of the Elasto Painters bench.
At the hand-off, the E-Painters on the floor made their move, with Lee setting a back pick on Alex Mallari to free Chan. But Barroca hollered for a switch and took on Chan, leaving Lee momentarily open to do as he pleased.
What he instinctively did, to which Norwood beautifully responded to, was slide to the basket, rise to meet the lob pass from Norwood and banked in the shot for the game-winner.
It was an alley-oop play the Mixers will be replaying repeatedly in their dreams, if not in their locker room viewing sessions, as they search for answers to how they can blow it going to Game 2 at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at the Big Dome.
Both Guiao and Cone were candid in their appreciation of those final few seconds.
“We got lucky in the end. We set up the play for Jeff but it was Paul who got open,” said Guiao. “Good recognition by Gabe.”
Cone was practically inconsolable.
“I feel really horrible. That was on me,” said Cone. “Coach Yeng made a brilliant play, but that game was totally on me. Our guys really played hard. They gave us a chance to win it. I blew it for them. I stepped out of character. I should have let the play go. This game is really sayang.”
Coming out quickly to claim responsibility, Cone probably saved Barroca from harsh criticisms that were similarly thrown at a rival point guard who made a couple of snap-of-the-finger decisions in the semifinals that backfired.
Guiao swiftly toned down euphoria over their win.
“Game 1 is really a feeling out game,” he said. “The bench of San Mig is becoming a really tough challenge for us.”
That would be Barroca, Mallari, rookie Justin Melton and Rafi Reavis, who combined for 23 points and would have been the key factors for San Mig had over-coaching and superb recognition on the part of the E-Painters not come into play.
Having to go through seven games against Barangay Ginebra San Miguel in the semis might have taken its toll somewhat on the Mixers as they struggled to keep up with a well-rested opponent.
In the end though, as spontaneously brilliant as that alley-oop play was, it was Rain or Shine’s overall defense (1 of 11 triples by San Mig) and the Mixers’ 15 missed free throws that came together to bring Game 1 to its heart-stopping climax.
Paul Lee just provided the icing on the cake which the E-Painters took all evening to bake.
Now where’s that steaming cup of coffee? (WJRHT)
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