Talk ‘N Text pulled this one out by the skin of its teeth.
Thanks to Ryan Reyes’ clutch triple with 14.3 seconds left, the Tropang Texters escaped with a shaky 66-65 victory over the stunned Alaska Aces Wednesday night to take Game 1 of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup semifinals series at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
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Cat-quick guard Jayson Castro clustered a game-high 17 points, nine coming in the second canto, to lead five other teammates with at least seven markers, but it was Reyes’ big triple from the left flank that enabled the top-seeded Tropang Texters to overcome the stubborn Aces.
Staring at a 63-65 deficit and coming off a timeout, Castro drove hard to the lane and drew the Aces’ defense before dishing out to a wide-open Reyes, who coolly sank the marginal basket.
Alaska still had a golden chance to take the lead back and steal a big “W”. After coach Luigi Trillo mapped out the potentially-winning play, JVee Casio drove strong to his right but was stopped in his tracks by Castro, forcing the heady playmaker to make a kick-out pass.
Tony dela Cruz, who came up with a pair of big blocks in the payoff canto but struggled with just two points, emerged as the recipient of Casio’s pass but surprisingly took a hurried 18-foot jumper over TNT defender Kelly Williams, hitting just the left side of the rim.
Castro then hauled down the leather and–with close to five seconds left–the Aces, visibly staggered, failed to give a pre-emptive foul as time expired.
Ranidel de Ocampo scattered all of his 11 points, highlighted by three treys, in the first half while Larry Fonacier, Harvey Carey, and Jimmy Alapag tallied eight apiece for the Texters. (Story continues after slideshow)
Talk ‘N Text, collectively, shot a horrendous 29.7 percent from the field and coach Norman Black couldn’t stress hard enough how they eked out the win, saying: “It’s a very difficult win for us. I’m happy with the win because we grinded it out. We could have given up but we grinded it out in the end. I’m happy how we played our defensive scheme.”
“Every game is not gonna be an easy game. Hat’s off to Alaska,” he added.
Primarily known as a lockdown defender, the 6-foot-2 Reyes could only muster seven points but his final three-point basket–after missing his first three attempts–emerged as the game’s biggest difference.
“The ball really wasn’t for Ryan but the good thing was, he was able to step up and take the shot,” was how Black described it.
Sonny Thoss proved to be a genuine force down low, racking up 14 points and as many rebounds, while do-it-all rookie Calvin Abueva plucked down 17 big rebounds on top of 10 points, all coming during the Aces’ second-half surge.
Trailing 39-47 after an Alapag trey, Alaska clawed its way back mainly behind Abueva, dropping 13 unanswered points bridging the third and fourth.
With the Texters struggling to find their usual offensive groove, the Aces continued to pour it on, with an Abueva follow-up putting them at 65-61 with 2:35 left.
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Twenty-five seconds later, Fonacier converted a short stab off a Baguio foul but missed the bonus shot, cutting their deficit at 63-65 while setting up the stage for Reyes’ heroics.
Despite the stinging setback, Alaska coach Luigi Trillo remains unfazed, saying: “This thing’s not over. If we’re gonna have a chance, it’s gonna boil down to a Game 7.”
“We cant feel sorry for ourselves. It’s a great opportunity for us. The nice thing we’ve shown is we can keep up with them. It’s nice we brought our A-game. We gotta go back to the drawing board,” he added.
Reserve guard RJ Jazul drilled in three treys to finish with 11 points but ace wingman Cyrus Baguio and Casio struggled throughout, limited to a combined 14-point outing.
Game 2 is set at the MOA Arena on Friday.