Painters’ heart, Texters’ experience keys to Game 1 wins

Game 1 of the current PBA semis went to the league’s most dominant team in the last two years – Talk N’ Text – and the one with the biggest heart – Rain Or Shine. The Tropang Texters escaped with a 66-65 squeaker over the hard-fighting Alaska Aces, while the Elasto Painters used a strong third quarter showing to repulse the San Mig Coffee Mixers, 81-73, to take the opening game of the best-of-seven series Wednesday at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

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Cyrus Baguio and the Aces blew a late lead when Ryan Reyes hit a triple. (PBA Images)

Talk 'N Text vs Alaska

The experience of the Texters proved to be their main weapon in the semis against an Alaska squad that had a major facelift this conference. The Aces actually did a superb job in the second half, especially in the third quarter where they outplayed Talk N’ Text, 22-13. In fact, Alaska was still up by two markers before TNT’s prolific shooting guard Ryan Reyes connected from downtown with just 14 seconds left in play to put his team ahead by a point.

The Aces still had a chance to claim the win with still 11 ticks in the game coming off a time-out. But veteran forward Tony Dela Cruz missed on a hurried turnaround jumper from mid-range, with still six seconds remaining. Jayson Castro secured the rebound and dribbled away as the Aces forgot to foul him.

In the end, the Texters just knew how to win even with their backs against the wall. Having played in so many championship games in the past couple of seasons, the Texters would not easily succumb to pressure and would know how to still come out victorious even in a tight situation. This is experience for you and it takes a lot of time to acquire it.

But kudos to Alaska's rookie coach Luigi Trillo for doing an excellent defensive job on Talk 'N Text. The Texters have been the best scoring team in the league for at least two years now but the Aces managed to limit them to just 66 points. TNT is a team that thrives on a lot of energy and a free-flowing offense. But Alaska managed to disrupt the usually smooth flow of the Texters’ offense.

For Game 2, expect Alaska to apply the same suffocating defense on TNT. But the Aces need a big boost in their offense. In Game 1, Sonny Thoss, RJ Jazul and sensational rookie Calvin Abueva topscored for Alaska with 14, 11 and 10 markers respectively. If this will still be the case in Game 2, chances are Talk 'N Text will surge with a 2-0 advantage in the semis. The Aces need to draw bigger numbers from go-to-guy Cyrus Baguio, who just had eight points in Game 1, and the sweet-shooting Jayvee Casio, who only managed to score six. Veteran gunner Don-don Hontiveros must also deliver more than just five points, his output in Game 1. Against Talk N’ Text, the Aces must have a balanced inside and outside attack to win.

Curiously, Alaska got better numbers in various departments: Total FG (Alaska 36.8%, TNT 29.7%), Rebounds (Alaska 55, TNT 51), second-chance points (Alaska 13, TNT 10), Turnover Points (Alaska 12, TNT 7).

But the Texters simply have an overwhelming edge in playoffs experience.

Gabe Norwood drives past Rafi Reavis in Game 1 action. (PBA Images)

Rain Or Shine vs San Mig Coffee

The much-awaited duel between the league’s last two champion squads was as exciting as expected. Both sides displayed an awesome balanced scoring, with four Elasto Painters (Jeff Chan, Paul Lee, Larry Rodriguez and Beau Belga) and six Coffee Mixers (Yancy De Ocampo, Mark Pingris, PJ Simon, Mark Barroca, Joe Devance and James Yap) in double digits. It was a battle between two titans that match-up well against each other.

But RoS played with the bigger heart in Game 1. The Painters clearly wanted it more. They played like they normally do – with a lot of passion and free will.

Chan came out of a scoring slump in this game, starting the game with a perfect three triples in three tries and ending the first half with 16 markers. In the second half, it was time for the others to hit their marks. Rodriguez and Ryan Arana exploded with a combined 18 markers in the third quarter, which RoS won 24-19. Then in the payoff period, Lee and Belga had huge games to keep the Coffee Mixers at bay. Jervy Cruz also collected impressive numbers of 15 boards and seven points.

In contrast, San Mig Coffee relied mostly on the ferocious attacks of Barroca in the fourth quarter. And Rain Or Shine also came out with the big stops in end game.

The Painters’ transition defense was commendable in Game 1, limiting San Mig to just four fast break points and six turnover points as opposed to their total of 25 transition points. They also had eight steals in the game.

What’s impressive about the Painters is how they seem to enjoy playing together. They work hard on defense but are very fluid on offense. Coach Yeng Guiao is known for giving his players more freedom on offense. And this is earning dividends for the Painters.

San Mig Coffee must apply a better tactical game to stop Rain Or Shine’s rampage. Coach Tim Cone is a brilliant strategist and a proven winning coach. Expect the Coffee Mixers to come up with some surprise tactics in Game 2.

But more than the X’s and O’s, the Coffee Mixers must at least equal the Painters’ fighting heart.

Editor's note: The blogger's views do not represent Yahoo! Southeast Asia's position on the topic or issue being discussed in this post.