Manila, Philippines – Denzel Bowles made sure there would be no need for triple overtime as before. In fact, the Purefoods import came close to putting the game away right in the first half.
Bowles poured 29 of his 49 points in the first 24 minutes last night to power defending champion Purefoods past Talk ‘N Text,100-94, in Game 1 of their PBA Commissioner’s Cup best-of-5 semifinals at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
After hitting 23 of 36 shots in 42 minutes, Bowles had only a few drops left in the tank in the end but it proved enough to ward off the Tropang Texters who charged back from 21 points down in the third quarter to come within a point of seizing the upper hand early in the last quarter.
Drained after finishing with 30 points during an epic 118-117 triple overtime victory over Talk ‘N Text in Davao City on March 14, Bowles torched the Texters with 18 points in the first quarter this time, 11 in the second and 12 in the third. He limped through 8 points in the last 12 minutes but got help from James Yap and Mark Barroca, whose head-spinning back-to-the-basket alley-oop shot with 39 seconds remaining beat the buzzer and may have come down as the shot of the season.
Yap added 18 points, 5 in the fourth quarter where the Hotshots withstood a fierce comeback by TNT, with Ranidel de Ocampo’s 3-pointer capping a huge rally from 69-48 to 84-83. But Bowles hit a step-back jumper and Yap a driving layup to stall the Texters, who had import Ivan Johnson scoring 12 of his 33 points in the final 12 minutes and nobody else contributing more than 3.
“You really can’t hold a good team down,” said Purefoods coach Tim Cone, paying tribute to TNT’s resilience. “We were flawless in the first half but we lost that energy in the second. Certainly losing Ping was a huge factor.”
Purefoods forward and defensive fortress Mark Pingris sprained his left ankle after tripping over teammate Joe Devance halfway in the third quarter with the Hotshots up, 67-50, and his absence was pivotal.
“Ping was so crucial in our matchup, especially on defense, that we scrambled after he got hurt; we couldn’t figure out how to match up with them,” said Cone.
TNT pounced on that big break and moved within 11 going to the fourth quarter before handing the offense to Johnson, who worked feverishly at exploiting an exhausted Bowles and a suddenly vulnerable Purefoods inside defense.
“We stopped moving and started just watching Denzel,” said Cone. “We certainly made the game really hard for him. He was awesome but he won’t be able to do that in five games. We have to get ourselves more involved.”
Barroca was a step ahead of Cone towards that direction.
With 39 seconds remaining and the Purefoods holding a 95-89 lead, Bowles launched a long 3 from top of the key with the shot clock virtually extinguished. The ball veered to the left, barely nicking the glass, and was snatched by Barroca who flicked it over his shoulder and watched it take a bounce and drop in.
Two crucial plays, both involving Bowles, went against TNT in the last 1:17 that doomed its chances. First was a travelling violation by the Purefoods import that went uncalled and then a hacking foul on Jayson Castro that was ruled a last touch violation on the Texters point guard.
The Hotshots were untouchable from the first half, especially in the opening period as Bowles, 14 of 18 overall, scored 18 of his 29 points in a fiery start. Purefoods opened its biggest lead in the first 24 minutes at 41-23 on a 3-point play by Bowles before easing to 51-36 at the break.
Running at every opportunity, Purefoods appeared to have surprised Talk ‘N Text with its blitz offense in setting the pace from the onset, taking 12-4 and 15-7 leads before using a 12-2 run to break the game open, 31-15.
The highly-charged Bowles was all over the court, hitting crisp perimeter jumpers, cutting inside as a second- and third-option scorer and leaving TNT’s defense in his wake in fast breaks.
Nothing TNT threw at him worked, and the Texters contributed to the onslaught by missing all 7 of their 3-point attempts in the first quarter and 13 of their 15 in the half, triggering Purefoods’ transition game.
Johnson, the TNT import, offered no solace, picking up three quick fouls and going 2 of 8 from the field in the first half. The Texters had no run longer than 4 until the 3-minute mark in the second quarter when they had a 7-point surge to cut a 45-28 deficit to 10.
But it was over in a heartbeat as Purefoods ended the half with a 6-1 run, 4 by Bowles, including a swooping slam after he trailed the Purefoods ballcarrier in the fast break, got the had-off at the last second and soared.
PUREFOODS 100 – Bowles 49, Yap 18, Mallari 8, Pingris 6, Simon 5, Barroca 4, Melton 3, Devance 3, Reavis 2, Maliksi 2, Pennisi 0.
TALK N’ TEXT 94 – Johnson 33, Castro 19, De Ocampo 15, Alas 9, Fonacier 9, Rosser 7, Washington 2, Williams 0, Seigle 0, Aban 0.
Quarters: 33-17, 51-36, 81-70, 100-94