The B-Meg Llamados came out smoking in the first period, allowed Talk 'N Text to come back in the third, and unleashed a big run at the start of the fourth to turn back the Tropang Texters, 88-82, to grab a 1-0 lead in the PBA Commissioner's Cup finals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Denzel Bowles, the favorite to win the Best Import plum, scored 25 points while PJ Simon shot 81% from the field and finished with 18 to help the Llamados overcome a lousy third period that saw them squander their double-digit advantage and allow TNT to take a five-point lead heading into the fourth.
"We played good on the first quarter and the fourth quarter, and we battled through that bad time in the third quarter," B-Meg coach Time Cone said. "That's not a good recipe to beat talk n text. We gotta play four quarters of basketball. We can't play only three and expect to win."
A James Yap basket at the start of the second half gave B-Meg a 50-40 lead, but TNT slowly made its run, and eventually grabbing the lead at 59-58 on a triple by Ryan Reyes. Kelly Williams extended the lead to 67-62 with a long three with only four seconds left in the period after Mark Barroca took an ill-advised triple with still 12 seconds left.
But TNT's offense went AWOL in the fourth as the Tropa managed only a couple of splits from the free throw line in the first six minutes of the fourth. Meanwhile, Simon was running rings around his defenders, dropping eight points on a variety of moves in a 14-2 B-Meg run that made it 77-69 with 5:15 left. He finished the game hitting 9 of 11 shots.
"PJ got us back into the game," Cone said. "He would have played the whole second half except that he got in foul trouble and we had to pull him out."
"PJ is PJ," TNT coach Chot Reyes concurred. "He's a hell of a player."
And while Simon and Bowles were picking apart TNT's defense, the Tropa were doing their share to hand the Llamados the game. They were simply horrendous from the free throw line, going 16-of-36.
"Two words: free throws," Reyes said. "You can't win a game if you miss 20 free throws. The fact is we just gotta make our free throws. These guys have been playing basketball since they were wearing short pants. I can't help them there. I can't shoot free throws for them. If we made 50% of what we missed we could have won."
Joe Devance and Marc Pingris also came up big for B-Meg with 11 points each as the Llamados showed why they are perhaps the only team that can match TNT's deep rotation.
"I thought we showed our depth today," Cone said. "We played a deep lineup. Chot does a real good job of mixing and matching. I thought we did a good job of matching that. B-Meg is a really deep team, and I'm just learning how to use that depth."
Still, TNT was only down 86-82 with 41 seconds left after Jimmy Alapag buried another one of his clutch triples and had a chance to inch closer after Bowles missed two free throws with 29 seconds left. But Ranidel De Ocampo's trey went in and out, and Yap and Pingris added a free throw each to put the game away.
Game 2 is set on Wednesday, also at the Big Dome.
B-MEG (88) - Bowles 25, Simon 18, Devance 11, Pingris 11, Yap 9, Barroca 4, Intal 3, Reavis 3, Urbiztondo 2, De Ocampo 2, Villanueva 0.
TALK N' TEXT (82) - Harvey 25, Alapag 12, Reyes 10, Fonacier 8, Williams 6, Dillinger 5, Castro 5, De Ocampo 5, Carey 4, Peek 2, Gamalinda 0, Aguilar 0.
Quarterscores: 25-14, 48-40, 62-67, 88-82