Petron coach Ato Agustin knew his team was badly outhustled in Game 1, so he made sure they didn't commit the same mistake twice.
Determined to prevent a repeat of the first game of their best-of-seven semifinal series against the defending champion Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters, the Blaze Boosters hit the ground running this time and controlled the tempo almost all throughout to win Game 2, 91-89, and even up the series at one win apiece.
Unlike in the series opener last Thursday, where they gave up a combined 36 points on second-chance points and turnover points while scoring only 23 of their own, the Blaze Boosters had a much better output on the hustle board in Game 2, getting 15 second-chance points and 20 points off turnovers, compared with 21 and 8 for TNT. Additionally, Petron scored more fastbreak points, 11-8.
"Second-chance points, turnovers points and fastbreak points," Agustin said. "Iyon talaga ang target namin. I think team effort did it, especially our defense. Iyong intensity namin nandoon. Unlike in the first game, we started out flat. Talagang malamya. Nag-init noong fourth quarter. But this time, this game, from the start iyong energy at intensity nandoon talaga. Although we had some lapses and turnovers, very focused sila sa game."
Behind Alex Cabagnot and Joseph Yeo, the Blaze Boosters sprinted out to a 26-18 after one quarter as TNT's starting five, in the colorful words of coach Chot Reyes, "played like sh…sh…sh…shocking." He was referring to the anemic first-quarter output of starters Jared Dillinger (0 points), Harvey Carey (0 points) Ryan Reyes (2 points), and Ali Peek (0 points).
"We didn't get anything," Reyes lamented. "Jared Dillinger wasn't around, Ryan Reyes had to be taken in and out because he was felling something in his Achilles (heel). We were just outplayed. They started very hot. Cabagnot and Yeo got them off to a big start, and that cushioned our comeback in the end.
"I said after Game 1, we need to play better in Game 2 than we did in Game 1 to win Game 2. Obviously we didn't, and that's the story of the ball game. Talo sa effort. They had more combined second-chance points and turnover points than us, so that's a very good indicator of effort. Unfortunately, they wanted it more than we did, and they came out with the victory."
The Texters finally got back into the game with Jimmy Alapag, Kelly Williams, Larry Fonacier, and Ranidel De Ocampo coming off the bench and tying up the score at 41 at the halftime break. But Cabagnot scattered 12 of his game-high 24 points in the third period to stake Petron to a 66-57 lead. Arwind Santos then buried a triple to open the fourth period, followed by a drive by Denok Miranda and a fastbreak layup by Lordy Tugade to give the Blaze Boosters their largest lead of the game, 73-57. Although Cabagnot would not score in the fourth, Yeo picked up the scoring cudgels and pumped in seven points to help keep the Texters at bay.
It was a good bounce-back game for both Yeo and Miranda, who were virtually absent in Game 1. Miranda, in particular, had a brutal outing, going scoreless in 20 minutes. "Missing in action si Denok noong first game," Agustin admitted. "Pero noong second game, sabi niya na babawi daw siya."
The former FEU point guard finished with seven points, four rebounds, six assists and one steal, while Yeo had 17 points and six assists. The Blaze Boosters also got a big lift from veteran Danny Ildefonso, who had a double-double effort of 12 points and 10 rebounds, including a big jumper from the baseline with 20 seconds left gave his team an 89-84 lead and virtually slammed the door on the Texters' last-ditch rally.
The feat earned Ildefonso player of the game honors, although in reality anyone among Cabagnot, Yeo, and Santos would have been a worthy winner as well, underscoring the total team effort the Blaze Bosoters put into this game.