The Talk 'N Text Tropang Texters face a must-win situation tonight in Game 6 of the PBA Commissioner's Cup Finals, but it's familiar territory for the defending champions.
Dating back to the semifinals of the Philippine Cup, TNT has won five straight elimination games, rallying from a 1-3 semis deficit against Petron Blaze and overhauling Barako Bull's 2-1 semis lead just last month. So tonight marks the sixth straight must-win game for the Tropa, and they will need to extend that streak to seven if they want to retain their title and keep their hopes for a rare grand slam, which they narrowly missed last season, alive.
But if you ask Chot Reyes, he feels his team might have finally run out of miracles.
"I'm sensing we have nothing left in our gas tanks," the colorful mentor said moments after B-Meg took Game 5, 82-66, in the process holding the Texters to their lowest point total of the conference. "In life you gotta sense if there's something left. Motivation is overrated. At this point players must have self-motivation, players need to decide if they still want to give it a final push."
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Reyes also said it's difficult to compare this situation with TNT's comeback against Petron, since his team was fresher then as it was still the early in the 2011-12 season. And since the team has again gone deep into the playoffs and was pushed to the hilt in the recent semifinals, there has been little time for some players to heal their nagging injuries. And as for their series win over Barako Bull, well, no offense to the Energy, but Reyes said that team wasn't as deep and as talented as these Llamados, who have the luxury of having two scorers (James Yap and PJ Simon) and a dominant import in Denzel Bowles.
Aside from motivating themselves, the Tropa have to find a way to stop Yap, who exploded for 30 points in Game 5 and has been averaging 19.8 points per game in the finals. The sweet-shooting forward expects the defense to come at him hard tonight, but he's undaunted.
"I will just prepare myself for whatever they'll do," he said in Tagalog. "I have to be ready for their physical defense in Game 6. This is the finals, we have to give it our all every game. We can't let go of our lead. I told my teammates we can't relax.
"TNT won't just give up. We also have to prepare for the defense of their wingmen. They have a lot of good wingmen."
Larry Fonacier and Jared Dillinger have both drawn the tough assignment to contain the high-scoring Yap, but while Dillinger has had back-to-back 18-point games, sticking with Yap seems to have taken its toll on Fonacier, who has hit double digits just once in the last five games, and was held to only two points in Game 5. The TNT wingman is averaging only 7.8 points in the finals, down from his nearly 13 points a contest in the elimination round.
The Llamados know that if they don't finish things tonight, the pressure will be on them in a Game 7, where TNT's championship experience will come into play. The Tropa are in their fifth straight finals, whereas B-Meg hasn't been on the big stage in nearly three years.
"The pressure is on us to close it out," said B-Meg coach Tim Cone, who is chasing his own personal milestone. Should the Llamados go on to capture the title, it will be the 14th overall for the American mentor, putting him just one shy of tying Baby Dalupan for the all-time record.
The B-Meg franchise, which has undergone numerous name changes and has even switched owners since debuting in the league in 1988, will win a 10th title if the Llamados either close it out tonight or prevail in a Game 7 in Sunday.