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PBA: Texters, Hotshots break tie tonight

Game Today (Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Purefoods Star vs Talk ‘N Text

Pingris and JohnsonWhile the Rain or Shine Elasto Painters are sitting pretty having secured the first Finals berth in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup, their looming opponents are both on pins and needles.

Things are about to get even less comfortable for defending champion Purefoods Star and Talk ‘N Text, in fact.

With their emotionally-charged best-of-5 semifinal series tied, 1-1, the Hotshots and the Tropang Texters gun for a pivotal victory in Game 3 at 7 tonight at the Smart Araneta Coliseum, with the winner dodging a bullet and the loser getting pushed closer to the cliff.

Rain or Shine, meantime, takes an unnecessary breather after sweeping the injury-plagued Meralco Bolts in their own series, giving the Elasto Painters all the benefits of rest and healing in the best-of-7 championship series, especially if Purefoods and TNT take their semis to the distance.

The opener last April 1 was anything but foolhardy. Purefoods raced to a 33-17 first quarter lead behind the hot-shooting Denzel Bowles and had an 81-70 advantage going to the fourth quarter only to encounter a gale force TNT comeback that had the Hotshots reeling.

A Ranidel de Ocampo 3-pointer cut Purefoods’ margin to 84-83, but Bowles, who had 49 points, hit a step-back jumper and James Yap added a driving layup to stop the Tropang Texters’ surge, 100-94.

Purefoods coach Tim Cone came away amazed at TNT’s resilience.

“You really can’t hold a good team down,” said Cone, who lamented the departure of top forward Marc Pingris halfway in the third quarter after stepping on the foot of teammate Joe Devance and turning his ankle.

“We were flawless in the first half but we lost that energy in the second. Certainly losing Ping was a huge factor,” Cone said. “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.”

Pingris gritted his teeth and took it all in to play in Game 2, but the Texters weren’t to be denied. Despite another torrid shooting from Bowles, TNT routed Purefoods, 93-77, to even the series, with import Ivan Johnson containing Bowles in the closing minutes and warring with anybody who got in his way.

He jawed with Pingris during the game and kept up the verbal exchange on the way back to the locker rooms after, drawing Devance and several other Hotshot players into the commotion.

“Both teams are trying to find a way to win and it’s a given that emotions are high. I can’t tell our players to back down and Purefoods won’t back down either,” said TNT coach Jong Uichico. “That’s the way it is.”

Unless the PBA clamps down on excessive physical contacts starting with Game 3 and reins in potential hotheads from both teams.

Tolerance for rugged plays bordering on the rough and the dangerous and non-legal guarding postures masquerading as hard-nosed defense have given rise to deliberate fouls and retaliatory acts that have taken away much of the spontaneity and fluidity from the series and reduced it almost to nothing more than a high-speed brawl.

An overdependence on Bowles, especially at crunchtime, could prove costly to Purefoods in an extended series.

Not only was Bowles a non-factor in the fourth quarter in Game 2, the entire Hotshots team, so used to dumping the ball to their import and getting out of the way to watch him work his magic, was held to a field goal during a decisive 8-minute stretch while rookie Kevin Alas (8 straight points with 2 triples) and veteran Jayson Castro towed TNT to a breakaway finish.

Mark Barroca, after that circus shot late in Game 1, had no more trapeze acts to wow the crowd in Game 2, getting held down to 2 free throws in 15:49 minutes. Devance fared even worse, going 1 of 10 in 33:34 minutes, while Pingris was scoreless in 31:20.

The emergence of Alas as a potent backcourt threat with Castro has given TNT an opportunity to plug the big hole left by the retirement of Jimmy Alapag, a situation the Texters will continue to exploit, especially if over-the-back flip shots to beat the buzzer are the only things their Hotshot counterparts can crow about.

Zapped of his energy by the fourth quarter of Game 2, Bowles can be expected to play a little less aggressive in the first quarter this time unlike in the first two games to conserve his strength for the homestretch drive. If the Purefoods locals, led by James Yap, cab come out strong early, and Bowles can assume the role of a temporary initiator for the offense, the Hotshots will be in good steed.

Keeping a lid on his temper, on the other hand, will be Johnson’s main task. Flagrant fouls and technicals on him early in the game will be costly for the Texters and will be pounced on by the Hotshots.