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PBA: Game 1 set tonight

TNT head coach Jong Uichico and Rain or Shine head coach Yeng Guiao shakes hand with PBA com. Chito Salud, PBA Chairman Patrick Gregorio  during the PBA Finals pressconference.   Photo by Tony Pionilla

Game Today (Mall of Asia Arena)
7 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Talk ’N Text

The psychological warfare between Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao and Talk ‘N Text mentor Jong Uichico has begun, ahead of the coveted Game 1 of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals.

During the pre-Finals press conference Monday, Uichico drew laughter when he said he wouldn’t mind if the Tropang Texters were to take the odd number Games 1, 3, 5 and 7, insinuating TNT wouldn’t have a problem claiming the winner-take-all match should the series go the distance.

Guiao, however, had a better idea.

“Sa’min na lang yung Games 1, 2, 3 and 4… kanila na yung 5, 6 and 7,” Guiao said, drawing even louder applause for suggesting the possibility of ROS sweeping the series in four games.

Turning serious, Guiao said he understands that winning the opener will set the tone for the seven-game title showdown which fires off today at 7 p.m. at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

“Game 1 is always important because the burden of adjustment will be on the opposing team. As for the winner, the team will just continue what they did in the series opener,” said Guiao.

The two teams arranged a championship collision via contrasting routes in the semifinals.

Rain or Shine, the top seeded team in this playoffs, swept injury-plagued Meralco in the five-game series, while Talk ’N Text – after losing the series opener – won three straight games to dethrone last season’s champion Purefoods Star.

This will be just the second time the two teams will face off in the finals after Talk ’N Text swept Rain or Shine in their best-of-seven championship during the 2013 Philippine Cup.

Compared to their previous duel, the Elasto Painters now enjoy some edge in experience since Guiao’s Gang will be playing in the finals for the third time in the last five conferences, a factor that could prove decisive.

The Tropang Texters, on the other hand, have reached the finals in this same conference last season – losing to San Mig Super Coffee in four games in a five-game series – but will be without the retired Jimmy Alapag and the injured Ryan Reyes this time.

TNT’s decimated backcourt understandably increases the odds against the Texters.

“Talk ’N Text is probably in transition from the Alapag era now to the Jayson Castro era,” said Guiao, taking the words out of Uichico’s mouth. “But once that transition is complete, TNT is almost invincible. In the meantime, with that transition era, there’s probably a chink in the armor of TNT and hope we can compete.”

Rain or Shine will be aiming for its second title in franchise history since Guiao steered the team to the 2012 Governors’ Cup title. The congressman from the first district of Pampanga, meantime, is eyeing his seventh championship.

Uichico, who owns eight league titles, is back in the finals for the first time as TNT mentor. The last time he reached this far was when he was still with Barangay Ginebra, which lost to TNT in the 2011 Commissioner’s Cup.

Leading the Tropang Texters is the tireless Castro, the leading Best Player of the Conference (BPC) contender, who averages 19.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and league high 5.3 assists, with import Ivan Johnson.

Backing them up are locals Ranidel de Ocampo, Jay Washington, Larry Fonacier, Kelly Williams, Danny Seigle, Willie Miller, Aaron Aban, Harvey Carey and rookies Kevin Alas and Matt Ganuelas-Rosser.

Rain or Shine will have Paul Lee, also a solid BPC contender who averages 16.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 3.2 assists, with the help of import Wayne Chism, who is third in the Best Import derby.

Expected to provide support for Lee and Chism are Gabe Norwood, Beau Belga, Raymond Almazan, Jericho Cruz, Chris Tiu, Jonathan Uyloan, Ryan Arana, TY Tang, Jeric Teng, JR Quinahan, Jervy Cruz and Jireh Ibanes.

Jeff Chan, the ace shooter of Rain or Shine who missed the team’s semifinal showdown against Meralco with a right foot injury (plantar fasciitis), hopes to play in the finals after he was given the green light by team doctors.

Lee, during the media briefing at Sambo Kojin Restaurant in Libis, Quezon City. Bared that the E-Painters have been closely studying in video the dazzling moves Castro used against Purefoods and are preparing who to throw defensively at the TNT dervish.

Word is that Ryan Arana, the bruiser from De La Salle, would first do the honors on Castro before handing him over one after the other to Adamson rookie Jericho Cruz, Jonathan Uyloan, JIreh Ybanes and finally Gabe Norwood.

The projected matchup between Castro and Lee, the breathtaking sidelight of the series, could take place only in brief instances, especially during over-the-top pick ‘n roll plays and switch-over but is not expected to dominate the series. (Report from Tito Talao)