By TITO S. TALAO
Game Today (Smart Araneta)
6:45 p.m. – San Mig vs Meralco
This is it for the Meralco Bolts. With or without injured import Mario West, they need to find a way to level their best-of-5 semifinal series with San Mig Coffee. If not, then it’s due south and out of the PBA Governors’ Cup for them.
As for the Mixers, what’s another day at work for them should they feel a tendency to slacken off in Game 4 today at the Smart Araneta Coliseum?
Meralco fights for survival and a shot at a historic first finals appearance at 6:45 p.m. against an opponent eyeing nothing less than a 24th franchise championship series.
Easily, the Bolts are the hungrier team. But can they have what they crave for without the man largely responsible for bringing them to the feast?
“I don’t know, but we’re ready to play All-Filipino if that’s what it takes because we don’t want to jeopardize the future of Rio (West’s nickname),” Gregorio said after the Bolts lost Game 3 Friday, 94-87, to fall behind, 2-1, in the series. “The schedule’s too tight and there may be no time to bring in a replacement, just in case.”
Initially feared as a dislocated right shoulder after getting bumped hard by Joe Devance eight minutes into the second half, West, who sat out the rest of the game, may have severely sprained a clavicle joint and aggravated an old injury.
“He sprained it so bad. He whispered to me, it happened to him before and so he was kind of upset,” Gregorio said. Devance, for his part, denied it was his intention to hurt West, who was earlier involved in an elbow-swinging incident that hit San Mig forward Marc Pingris in the jaw and knocked him down, sending the Mixers bench on its feet.
“When I hit him, it was nothing dirty. It wasn’t even super physical. He just extended his arm and of course, I didn’t think it was hard,” Devance told Spin.ph.
“I hope he’s okay. I want him (West) to play the next game. I was just going for the ball and not trying to take him out.”
Gregorio said that though the bump was “obvious,” he knew Devance “isn’t a dirty player.” Still, Gregorio added, “the damage has been done.”
According to Meralco team manager Butch Antonio, West had an MRI exam after the game with the results forwarded the following morning to the clinic of famed orthopedic surgeon Dr. Raul Canlas.
No word has yet come out of the Bolts camp regarding West’s status as of presstime yesterday afternoon.
With West healthy, the Bolts are on equal footing with any team in the league, San Mig included. Without him, the odds could be a little too much to overcome.
If West is unable to return for Game 4, then Meralco has three options: one, play without an import; two, bring in one from the States lightning fast, and three, sign up whoever is already here.
Who could that be? Jamelle Cornley, Rain or Shine’s former import who the Elasto Painters cut off from their roster after he figured in a sexual assault and a mauling incident involving a police officer at a Quezon City hotel a few months ago.
Cornley powered Rain or Shine to its first PBA championship in this conference last year and is reportedly available should the Bolts feel a really desperate need to find a replacement for West.
That is if PBA commissioner Chito Salud would give Cornley the green light to suit up, which a PBA insider said is “not gonna happen.”