Jayson Castro, TNT’s ankle-breaking point guard, gets past the long-limbed Gabe Norwood and roars towards the basket where the wide-bodied Belga, his bosom buddy from their Philippine Christian University days in the NCAA, guards the fort.
“What will you do?” Belga was asked.
Shaking his head, Belga turned his back and said with a wry smile, “Ayokong isipin ‘yan!”
Despite his offhand response, Belga, in the back of his mind, probably knew what he would do, what he has to do, should Castro, with the option to pull up or kick out to an open Ivan Johnson at the wing or Larry Fonacier at the corner, breaks for the basket instead.
A bone-jarring foul with Castro on the floor resulting in two free throws would likely be acceptable to ROS coach Yeng Guiao. But there would be hell to pay if Belga, out of amity to his PCU brother and now Gilas Pilipinas teammate, hesitates a bit and Castro gets off a game-tying layup.
Or worse, if Belga puts up a half-hearted defense and this is exploited by Castro, a master of the bump-and-release drive, for a catastrophic 3-point play.
Magic Johnson once said of his longtime pal Isiah Thomas: “We are friends before and after [the game], not during.” The two NBA greats would buss each other on the cheek before the opening jump ball and then go for each other’s throat for 48 minutes, with Johnson mercilessly pounding the smaller Thomas at the low post and Thomas clawing and climbing over Johnson’s back.
“You have to hate the other guys a little [to gain an edge],” Larry Bird was quoted during his Celtic years. “And we certainly hated the Lakers.”
With both the Elasto Painters and the Tropang Texters obsessed with exposing mismatches and pouncing on them, and blessed with players gifted in the art of isolation play, a best-of-7 series, which starts today at the Mall of Asia Arena, could present more than enough opportunities to test ties that bind, camaraderie and friendship all for the name of winning a championship.
Castro barreling towards Belga or Paul Lee charging in the direction of Ranidel de Ocampo, another alliance forged through the national team, will be commonplace as the series goes on, and whoever has the heart to momentarily set aside comradeship and closeness for the sake of producing a tightly-fought, well-coached, well-played finals, with no quarters asked and none given, should emerge with the confetti and balloons raining down their heads and the championship trophy glistening in their hands.
Two men, at least, won’t have it otherwise.
Asked whether he intends to keep his notorious temper in check, Johnson, the TNT import with anger management issues, growled: “I don’t think so because I plan to get things done!”
The other, of course, is Yeng Guiao.
Now back to Beau Belga.