After getting blown out in Game 1, coming close in Game 2 and losing in overtime in Game 3, the Powerade Tigers finally got it right on the fourth try, holding off a furious end-game rally by Talk 'N Text to eke out a 100-97 win last night that kept their slim Philippine Cup title hopes alive.
"Buhay pa, buhay pa," Bo Perasol said. "Well, I have to give it to them (the Tigers). We were talking about getting one game. We were not even focusing that they were going to sweep us. We just focused on getting just this game, not even one game at a time. Just this game."
Playing with nothing to lose, the Tigers took the fight to the Tropang Texters from the get-go, building several double-digit leads in the first half before settling for a 53-43 lead at halftime. But wily point guard Jayson Castro, held scoreless in the first half, put on a shooting clinic in the third period, firing 16 points including a running three-point shot that banked in at the buzzer and tied the game at 75 entering the fourth.
The momentum having swung hard to the now-fired up Tropa, the Tigers turned to Sean Anthony, who was in the midst of a career game, to rescue them. The Fil-Am forward had six points in an 11-2 Powerade run that restored their double-digit spread at 92-81 with 6:07 left.
The inevitable TNT comeback was held off for a while by Gary David, who had earlier been named Best Player of the Conference, who answered Ali Peek's five points with four if his own to stake the Tigers to a 96-88 lead with only 3:32 remaining.
Then things started getting a little crazy.
TNT turned the ball over on their next possession, but David and Marcio Lassiter couldn't put the game away, both missing jumpers that would have given Powerade a 10-point lead. Ranidel De Ocampo scored and was fouled, but he muffed the bonus free throw. Rommel Adducul then threw the ball away. Jimmy Alapag missed a wide-open three. JV Casio, an 86% free throw shooter, made only 1 of 2 charities. 97-90 Powerade, 1:59 left.
Larry Fonacier missed a triple. Anthony stumbled while driving into the lane and lost the ball. Fonacier was fouled. An 80% free throw shooter in the finals, he also made only 1 of 2. But his miss on the second free throw was tipped around, and the ball found its way back to him. He calmly buried a triple. 97-94 Powerade, 1:17 left. Timeout Powerade. The TNT crowd could sense their team was about to win it all right here.
Casio capped his below-par performance (only 7 points) with a costly turnover. With no one near him, he somehow bounced the ball off his leg and out of bounds. 1:11 left. Kelly Williams set up a screen for Fonacier at the top of the keyhole, and Anthony was slow to switch. Fonacier sank another triple, and just like that, the game was tied at 97 with only 1:03 left.
TNT smothered David and Lassiter on the next play, so Anthony took matters into his own hands hitting a pull-up jumper with the shot clock winding down that gave Powerade a 99-97 lead with only 38 seconds left. A botched pass by De Ocampo to Fonacier could have spelled doom for TNT, but Castro picked up the ball and was fouled by Casio with only 24 ticks left. As if to add more drama to the game, Castro missed both his free throws. The Tigers rebounded and were somehow able to slice 10 seconds off the clock before David was fouled. An 84% free throw shooter, David missed the first and made the second to keep it a one-possession game.
Castro missed a triple with six seconds left, and Anthony grabbed the rebound as the Powerade crowd began celebrating an apparent Tigers win. But perhaps in his excitement, Anthony chose to dribble the ball all the way to halfcourt, instead of passing off to David, who was open in the backcourt. Pressured by Castro, Anthony dribbled right into a turnover with 1.4 seconds left.
On the Powerade bench, Adducul was frowning and scratching his head, for incredibly, Anthony had given TNT one last chance to send the game into overtime. After a timeout, the Tropa ran a beautiful inbound play that found Alapag wide open in the right flank. His shot looked straight and true, but it rimmed out at the buzzer.
"We had a general game plan of just being the best on the offensive side, just being who we are, and doing something more on defense," Perasol said. "I think we did that by letting them score less than 100. In the last two games, we could have won. But we lacked the maturity in the end game."
Aware that no team has ever rallied from a 0-3 deficit, Perasol is taking a slow-but-steady approach.
"We are just going to focus on another game. We don't think about it going to be 3-1. We just talk about the first quarter, second quarter, and all of that. I just believe that if we take it one quarter at a time, I think we can do it. I think we showed in the last three games including this one that we can compete with Talk 'N Text."
Perasol also praised David, who scored 35 points and bucked a trend of BPC winners performing poorly the night they win their award.
"I was expecting Gary not to play his best because he got the Best Player of the Conference," Perasol admitted. "But who am I to judge him? He really proved that he is the best player of the conference.
"Hindi ko na iniisip iyon kasi kailangan makuha ito," David said when asked about his award. "Kundi mahirap iyong ma-sweep."
Aware that his main players were logging heavy minutes in the finals, Perasol juggled his rotation a bit in this game, sending in Alex Crisano earlier than usual and using back-up point guards Rudy Lingganay and Celino Cruz at the same time to give his starters some rest in the second period. The gamble paid off as Powerade's lead actually increased while David sat out for four minutes. Adducul also gave quality minutes with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 19 minutes of action.
"I have to commend my bench players for giving it their best," Perasol said. "I think they supported our starters very well this time.
"I think physically they're tired," Coach Bo said of his crew. "Mentally they're tired. But they don't care about that. Gary here, coming from the series against B-Meg, seven games of Rain or Shine, four games of Talk 'N Text and almost averaging 35 minutes, he's tired. But it's not in his vocabulary right now. It shouldn't be. So I know they're going to play right through that. They're mentally tough, especially JV, especially Marcio. We just have to get ample support from the bench players."
David hopes this Game 4 win will continue a pattern that's been running in the finals.
"Napag-usapan namin sa practice, Game 1 pangit ang laro namin. Tambak kami. Game 2 gumanda ang laro namin. Game 3, nag-overtime. Kaya kung susumahin mo, sunod-sunod, kailangan Game 4 panalo tayo. Iyon nga, panalo."
Chot Reyes, meanwhile, was disappointed in the play of his frontline, which was badly outplayed by Powerade's shorter frontline.
"There's definitely a cause for concern," Reyes said. "Their bigs outplayed our bigs. We only have one advantage against this team. They have the best set of wingmen in the entire PBA, and we have no match against their wingmen. So we have to compensate with our big men. But tonight, their bigs outscored our bigs 40-29, and that was the difference."
Anthony was the biggest difference in the Tigers' frontline performance, coming up with 19 points and 11 rebounds.
Reyes also gave a subtle message to his team about standing up to the physicality of the Tigers.
"I guess I'm also at fault because I didn't prepare the guys hard enough," he said. "Because we came out really soft. Every time Jayson, Jimmy or Ryan (Reyes) would drive, they kept hitting the floor. I never saw any of their players hit the floor when they would drive, so I felt we were very soft. We lost the game in the first half. That was the story of this ballgame."
Reyes also took exception to the inordinate amount of outside shots his players took, which, he felt, contributed to the loss.
"We shot 35 attempts from the three-point line. Our advantage is inside but we kept jacking up three-point shots especially on the fastbreak. We had a lot of fastbreak opportunities, but he kept jacking them up. We have to be able to play to our strengths, and tonight we didn't and we got our butts kicked."