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PBA: Texters, ROS clash for all the marbles

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

Raymund Almazan defends against TnT's Jayson Castro.    Photo by Tony PionillaNow that Rain or Shine coach Yeng Guiao had officially diagnosed Talk ‘N Text import Ivan Johnson as “mentally unstable” and a “menace” and Johnson has struck back by dismissing Guiao as being “too old” to be making such “foolish” comments, the great war TNT forward Ranidel de Ocampo foresaw during the pre-finals press conference two weeks ago is now frighteningly a reality.

True, there were pocket skirmishes that broke out in the course of the PBA Commissioner’s Cup Finals, enough to eject a handful of players, suspend one and fine another P150,000. Game Seven at 7 tonight, however, will be nothing like those minor scuffles but an all-encompassing, all-consuming campaign to be waged with all the bitterness, enmity and extreme physicality that have marked Games One to Six.

Unless, of course, one team blows out the other right in the first quarter, taking the fight and fury out of its dispirited, hapless, outclassed opponent. But should all things remain equal at halftime, the next 24 minutes could see some of the most chilling clashes in recent PBA championship history.

Uniformed police personnel, if Marines in full battle gear are unavailable, stationed everywhere at the Smart Araneta Coliseum may be a foreboding sight but not such a bad idea if only to guarantee that fierce action doesn’t escalate into anything wicked and senseless and remains confined on the playing court and not spill over elsewhere.

Talk ‘N Text versus Rain or Shine isn’t a rivalry nor a renewal of old conflicts but a fresh, open wound left gaping by two teams willing to go to great extents to destroy each other in pursuit of a championship.

Fueled by an import (TNT’s Ivan Johnson) burdened with anger management issues that has kept him out of the NBA other than a short period of time, and a volatile coach (Guiao) who rants and raves at anyone who crosses his path, the best-of-7 series has been transformed into a vicious struggle devoid of artistry and poetry in motion and instead laden with brutal fouls and “borderline street brawl” as Tropang Texters coach Jong Uichico describes it.

TNT took Game One, 99-92, but ROS came back to win Games Two, 116-108, and Three (109-97). The Texters regrouped to claim back-to-back victories in Games Four (99-92) and Five (103-94) for a 3-2 lead before falling short in Game Six (101-93) to leave the finals deadlocked.

Game 7 for all the marbles, as Guiao said Sunday, gets underway under a climate of animosity and rancour, with one swing of an elbow, one hack in the arm or one perfectly-thrown ball probably triggering another bench-clearing situation reminiscent of Game Four.

A pre-game talk initiated by the PBA with team officials, coaches and key players from both sides could go a long way to restoring mutual respect and sportsmanship. More vigilance from the referees is imperative even if it means turning the championship into a free throw-shooting contest and dragging it well until midnight. The uniformed police officers and the yellow-shirted Big Dome security, meanwhile, could be asked to hush up foul-mouthed fans who oftentimes mistake racial slurs and profanities for good-natured ribbing.

Both Guiao and Uichico believe all game strategies, adjustments and countermeasures have been exhausted, leaving in the centrifuge only the purest form of athletic excellence – a Jayson Castro three-point shot, a Paul Lee shake-and-bake, a Jeff Chan quick release, a Ranidel de Ocampo Hakeem Olajuwon swing-pivot.

TNT and ROS basically have played man-to-man defense although the two teams had tried various types of zone alignments (1-3-1 even) and sporadic presses with relative success. The dribble-drive and the drive-and-kick remain the Texters’ main weapons, while the pick ‘n roll and shooters in the corners have worked well for the Elasto Painters.

If Johnson puts on his best behavior and cancels out his production in the matchup with Wayne Chism, the locals would have the whole stage for themselves to put on a show.

Minus the distractions and the debilitating contacts, Game Seven could yet be the redemption, the salvation, of a championship series unforgettable only for the wrong reasons.

As Jong Uichico said after Sunday’s loss: “It all boils down to one game.”

Make the most out of it, gentlemen.