Will TNT end it tonight?

The deep TNT bench has been the difference in this series. (Photo by Sid Ventura)

First off, some trade news from the PBA Commissioner's Office. Commissioner Chito Salud has approved the three-way trade involving the Barangay Ginebra Kings, the B-Meg Llamados, and the Barako Bull Energy. Since Ginebra and B-Meg are sister teams, a third team was needed to get involved in the transaction.

To summarize, Barangay Ginebra shored up its thin frontline rotation with the acquisition of Kerby Raymundo and got a legitimate rising star in Dylan Ababou, B-Meg picked up swingman JC Intal plus Barako Bull's 2012 second-round pick (from Shopinas), while Barako Bull ended up with shooter Roanld Tubid and seldom-used rookie big man Reil Cervantes plus a 2014 second-round pick from Ginebra.

On the surface, it seems to me Ginebra got the best of this trade. A healthy Raymundo can be a big asset down low, while they're also set for the future with the young rookie Ababou. B-Meg also got a quality forward in Intal, plus that second round draft pick should be pretty high, maybe 11th or 12th overall, since Shopinas is on pace to finish last this season. Not surprisingly, the third team involved in the trades — Barako — came out with the least to show. Tubid has clearly slowed down, while Cervantes was hardly used during his brief stay with Ginebra. But who knows? Maybe if Cervantes gets more playing time under Junel Baculi he can be a contributor.

I also think that Barako Bull gave up too much. The Energy were just supposed to be a conduit, yet it looks like they got the least value. How could you part with a keeper like Ababou, who not only has game but can also bring in the fans with his exciting moves and pleasant disposition? The Energy already gave up their other promising rookie Allein Maliksi (to Ginebra as well), and now they've also given up that valuable second-round pick alter this year, so they will now have to lean on their aging veterans for the next season or two.


Will Talk 'N Text bring out the brooms tonight? The Tropa have a commanding 3-0 lead, and they're almost a cinch to become the first team in 27 years to repeat as Philippine Cup champions. The only question is whether they do it tonight, Sunday or Wednesday. (I don't see Powerade tying it up at 3-3 at this stage, so Wednesday, or Game 6, would be the latest TNT wins it all).

History is definitely on the side of TNT. Aside from the obvious fact that no PBA team has ever rallied from a 0-3 deficit, only one team down 0-3 has managed to stretch it to a Game 6 (Alaska, against Ginebra in the 1997 Commissioner's Cup).

All of this, though, means little or nothing to TNT coach Chot Reyes, who refuses to look ahead and still espouses a one-game-at-a-time approach. His team adopted this philosophy in their semifinal series against Petron Blaze when they found themselves down 1-3 and by two points with a mere 54 seconds left in Game 5.

"We said in Game 1, this is our first step," Reyes said shortly after winning Game 3 in overtime.  "In Game 2 we took another step. Tonight (last Wednesday) we took our biggest step. But it's still not over. We still have to take that final step. I think we've done a great job staying present and not getting ahead of ourselves so far, and our ability to discipline our thoughts is important. From the time were down 1-3 to Petron up to now. So we have to now more than ever stick to that, thinking that we're only concerned with the next possession, the next play, the next game."

The Tigers, Reyes added, will play with no pressure at all, which makes them a very dangerous team.

"What we have to watch out for is [tonight], we're gonna play a team that has nothing to lose," Reyes said. "They're just gonna go out there and play their hearts out and play very free, relaxed basketball. And that's always dangerous. And we know, we were there. When we were down 1-3 against Petron, we came into Game 5 with just nothing to lose and we let it all hang out and play. We know how Powerade thinks and feels right now, and we've got to take that to heart."

TNT's deep bench has definitely played a major role in this series. In Game 3, for instance, Larry Fonacier and Ranidel De Ocampo came off the bench to score 25 and 23 points, respectively to lead TNT in scoring. If one player is having an off night, Reyes has the luxury of putting in another player of equal skill. Not so with Powerade. Bo Perasol has done his best to hide his lack of bench support, particularly down low where Rommel Adducul is giving it his all but is clearly on his last legs and Alex Crisano has become more of a sideshow than anything else. Due to the absence of a reliable scorer off the bench, Powerade's Big Three have been called upon to play almost 40 minutes a night, and while all three are fit, tired legs in the end game can sometimes spell the difference between a good shot and a bad one. Now would be a good time for Josh Valandingham, Will Antonio, Celino Cruz and Rudy Lingganay to go back to that B-Meg game last December and summon up whatever it was that pushed them to hit big shots and play good team defense that night.

The Game 3 loss was tough and potentially demoralizing, but I think the Tigers will get a stay of execution tonight and pick up a win. But TNT will wrap it up on Sunday.



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