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PBA: Pivotal Game 5 tonight

Chism vs. De Ocampo

Game Today (Smart Araneta)
7 p.m. – Rain or Shine vs Talk ‘N Text

One coach swears he has never been part of a PBA championship marked by such wanton disregard for sportsmanship and fair play. The other warns of a potential escalation in the conflict.

At the rate aggression and enmity had reached alarming levels in the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, with Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao getting knocked down in Game 1, Elasto Painters star guard Paul Lee losing a teeth in Game 3, TNT shooter Larry Fonacier hitting the floor hard chest-first in the same game, and a ball-throwing incident sparking a bench-clearing commotion that led to three ejections in Game 4, one struggles to comprehend how a promising best-of-7 series had been reduced to an ugly brawl.

And this is just after four games.

Overshadowed by the prevailing anarchy, among others, are the individual brilliance of Jayson Castro, the Best Player of the Conference, the poetry in motion of Ranidel de Ocampo’s forays, the amazing resilience of Paul Lee, and the strategic battle between TNT’s Jong Uichico and ROS’ Yeng Guiao.

Already the historic Smart Araneta Coliseum resembles the ancient Roman Colosseum, with the brutal combat that takes place inside, and the players look more and more like snarling gladiators with every game, spilling blood and guts in a fight to the death.

Going to Game 5 at 7 tonight, with the championship tied at two games apiece, Uichico shakes his head over the fierceness with which the battle for a glittering trophy is being waged.

“It’s rough already; it’s no longer basketball,” he said after TNT emerged from Game 4 with a fight-marred 99-92 victory. “It’s borderline of almost having a brawl every single moment.”

Asked whether he recalls ever being part of a finals marked by such animosity and ill will, Uichico said: “Never. Basketball intense, yes, but not rough like this.”

Would he then recommend to the PBA that something be done about it?

“I don’t think I even have to talk about it,” Uichico said. “Nakikita naman nila e. It’s right there before all our eyes.”

Guiao, who stepped in the middle of confrontation between his nemesis TNT import Ivan Johnson and ROS forward JR Quinahan early in the fourth quarter of Wednesday’s game, was less subtle in his disapproval.

“The referees’ failure to control the game is what led to the flare-ups,” he said. “And this thing will escalate if it’s allowed to do so. The league has to do something about it. Otherwise a nice series might turn ugly. It’s not a question of either team backing down dahil finals to. Laban talaga pareho. Is this how they want to sell the games?”

De Ocampo, who had 24 points when TNT won the opener with the same final score, took the cudgels for Castro in the second quarter by scoring 11 straight points on the way to a career-equaling 33 points.

Castro came through after a cold start to finish with 25 points, 13 coming in the fourth quarter where he drained his fifth 3-point shot.

Three quick fouls on Best Import Wayne Chism in the first quarter and a lightning fourth foul called early in the second effectively sidelined the Rain or Shine import, an ominous development Guiao pounced on.

“It was not a fair two and a half quarters for us,” he said. “That’s the major part of the story, us not having Wayne. That’s the only way they can win, by getting our import in foul trouble.”

Chism didn’t help matters, however, by going 2 of 10 from the field, his 13 points and 8 rebounds his lowest outputs in the series.

Uichico refused to divulge much but admitted several adjustments were made in their pick ‘n roll plays after Game 3.

“It doesn’t mean that it worked, and I don’t know if it did, but we did make some adjustments,” he said. “We just lived to fight another day.”