Rising to the challenge posed by a playoff opponent which transformed from being a docile creature to becoming a ferocious beast in just 48 hours, the Star Hotshots turned back Globalport, 101-94, in their do-or-die last night to advance to the semifinals of the PBA Governors’ Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
The Hotshots will take on the No. 1 Alaska Aces in the best-of-5 semifinals, reuniting on the battlefield Star coach Tim Cone and his former team, which he led to 13 of its 14 PBA championships.
Cone said the rubber match with Globalport had kept him preoccupied for two straight days following their 123-76 rout of the twice-to-beat Batang Pier last Friday, leaving him no time to contemplate even remotely a Star-Alaska semis showdown.
Now Cone is without distraction and he can begin by watching video of the 2013 Commissioner’s Cup semifinals where Alaska, coached by Alex Compton, beat him and the San Mig Coffee Mixers, 3-1, to move to the finals.
The Aces clinched the first semifinal berth after disposing off No. 8 seed Barangay Ginebra San Miguel, rallying from 16 points in the third quarter to book a date with the winner of the Star-Globalport quarterfinals.
The Batang Pier suffered the worst beating in league playoff history in their first meeting, trailing by as many as 63 points to the Hotshots before dragging their hapless form to within 53 at the final buzzer.
If the Hotshots thought the Batang Pier would roll over and die a second time, as Cone feared, they found out almost too late that they were sadly mistaken.
In a span of 48 hours, Globalport metamorphosed into a raging brute, kicking up a storm after falling behind by 21 in the second quarter behind 10 points from Stanley Pringle in the third and 16 of his 38 from import Jarid Famous in the second half.
After cutting the deficit to 70-65 at the end of three quarters, Globalport forced Star to miss its first six shots in the fourth while hitting three straight baskets, including a short floater by Famous off a spin move that gave the Batang Pier a 71-70 lead with 10:18 remaining.
Cone recalled thinking: “Uh-oh, how’re we gonna live this down if we lose this game after that big win?”
Mark Barroca and James Yap, who came in late in the third quarter to give Marqus Blakely a breather, swiftly provided the answers.
Barroca blitzed through the baseline and banked in a reverse shot and Yap, who had a breakaway dunk in their first meeting, settled for a more familiar weapon – a 15-foot jumper – to cushion a last gasp 3-pointer from Terrence Romeo that tied the game, 74-all, for the last time.
Within the next two minutes, the Hotshots schooled the Batang Pier on the beauty of the transition game, scoring eight straight points on the run following Globalport misses, two of them 3s by Romeo.
Alex Mallari, who led Star with 17 points, had 9 in the fourth quarter, four coming during that decisive run. Yap banked in a jumper on the fly and Marc Pingris, who got bawled over by Cone to calm him down during a tense situation in the third quarter, lobbed a grenade over Famous along the baseline.
That sucked all the fight out of Globalport.
Cone paid tribute to the “resilience” of Globalport and the swiftness with which coach Pido Jarencio whipped his team back into becoming a real threat after that.
He then acknowledged the obvious: “I knew it was gonna be tough and it was. This was a really difficult game to coach because the expectation was so high. I’m just glad we got through it.”
The brief moment during the post-game interview also allowed Cone to reflect a bit on that semifinal loss to the Aces two years ago.
“That was a different team back then; we’re a little confident now,” he said. “But we have to be in our best defensively against them. They’re a formidable team.”
Star became only the seventh team to overcome a twice-to-beat disadvantage, a feat accomplished only 11 times so far.
Famous had 11 points in the second quarter and Romeo 9 as Globalport chipped away at a 39-18 deficit, refusing to let the most important game of their young franchise go the way of the last one.
But playing without relief eventually told on Famous while Pringle, who had 10 in the third quarter, succumbed to leg cramps with two minutes left.
A second knockout game is set today between San Miguel Beer and Meralco, with the winner facing Rain or Shine in the playoffs.
STAR 101 – Mallari 17, Yap 17, Blakely 15, Simon 14, Devance 13, Taha 8, Barroca 6, Pingris 6, Melton 5, Pennisi 0.
GLOBALPORT 94 – Famous 38, Pringle 16, Romeo 15, Krayem 9, Jensen 7, Buenafe 6, Kramer 3, Semerad 0, Miranda 0.
Quarters: 21-16, 49-40, 70-65, 101-94