Defending two-time titlist Talk ‘N Text just reminded Rain or Shine how genuine champions flourish in crunch time.
Flaunting their poise anew under duress, the Tropang Texters overcame a late-charging Elasto Painters 87-81 Wednesday night to take Game 1 of their best-of-seven PBA Philippine Cup titular showdown before a big Smart Araneta Coliseum crowd.
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Lightning-quick Jayson Castro came through with a gutsy lay-up in the stretch and finished with 16 points, the same output of forward Ranidel De Ocampo, and Talk ‘N Text, for the nth time, showed enough composure in the critical junctures to hold off Rain or Shine.
Jared Dillinger also provided ample support with 13 points, four rebounds and three assists while Larry Fonacier, who tallied nine markers along with playmaker Jimmy Alapag, drilled in a momentum-shifting triple in the face of the Rain or Shine’s ferocious fightback.
“I was very happy with the way we played defense today,” beamed TNT coach Norman Black, who is eying his 11th PBA title and his first since 2001. “Despite the fact that we’re up 1-0 now, this is where the fun begins.”
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Six players, led by Jervy Cruz’s 13, contributed at least eight points for the Elasto Painters, who trailed by as many as 18 points (15-33) in the early goings but managed to move to within 76-79 off a Gabe Norwood split, down to just 3:15.
Unlucky for them, TNT proved to be a tough nut to crack in the winning moments.
With 14,065 fans on their feet, Fonacier uncorked a dagger of a triple off an Alapag handoff to restore TNT’s lead to six.
Rain or Shine gunner Jeff Chan, who clustered eight of his 10 points in the second canto, broke out of his funk with a jumper for a 78-82 count with 2:37 remaining.
The E-Painters got another chance to inch closer after the Texters muffed their offensive play, but Paul Lee, blowing past Castro, bungled what seemed to be an easy lay-up in the ensuing play.
Then Castro, using his quickness as always, made RoS pay dearly, barreling through the lane and banking in a big bucket for an 84-78 cushion with 1:51 left.
RoS, however, continued to entertain hopes of a late-game charge, with Norwood splitting his free throws to make it 79-84, time down to just 65 seconds.
After De Ocampo lost control of the leather, Lee quickly rushed the leather and–not seeing Chan wide-open in the other side–drove hard to the paint but a Texter slapped the ball out of bounds.
In the next play, Chan tried the play the hero’s role but turned out to be the goat, turning the ball over against Dillinger and practically throwing the RoS hopes away.
Alapag virtually iced the game with two made free throws before a Lee lay-up cut the Texters’ lead to five. A Castro split sealed the final count with 19.2 seconds left before Chan and Lee missed their last-gasp forays.
Despite the victory, Black appeared cautious with RoS smaller line-up that made life difficult for TNT, notably in the second half after controlling the first 24 minutes with a big 51-39 lead at the break.
“We had a lot of problems when they started using small lineup and Gabe Norwood playing at four. They (the Painters) have a great coach and they have great players. We made too many turnovers in the second half. I’m just trying to survive out there and we just wanted to win,” he noted.
Dillinger also shared the same view, stating: “We know it’s gonna be a battle out there. We just stuck to our game plan. We know we’re a good offensive team, but it’s the championship. That’s (playing tough defense) what we showed tonight.”
Game 2 is set this Friday at the MOA Arena.