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PBA: Texters beat Elite

Kelly Williams
Games Tomorrow (Smart Araneta)
4:15 p.m. – Mahindra vs Globalport
7 p.m. – Brgy. Ginebra vs NLEX

Shorthanded Tropang TNT celebrated the return of Ranidel de Ocampo and the absence of aggravation yesterday in holding back the Blackwater Elite, 108-102, kicking off defense of the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup on a high note at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.

De Ocampo announced his comeback with 20 points, four rebounds, three assists and two steals in 28:14 minutes as the Texters, who beat Rain or Shine in six games in last season’s finals, caught a big break in drawing for their first game an opponent that has yet to win an opener in all four previous conferences.

De Ocampo strained his back severely in weights training in October and sat out all but one of the Texters’ first conference campaign as he received therapy and rehabilitation treatment through the remainder of last year. He started against the Elite and played 9:43 minutes in the first quarter, scoring nine points as TNT opened a 29-26 lead.

Six minutes into his first game back, however, De Ocampo found himself in the middle of a frightening sequence of events that saw Blackwater forward JP Erram getting swept from under his feet and banging the back of his head hard on the floor.

With TNT trailing, 17-11, De Ocampo drove the lane against Blackwater import MJ Rhett, who got knocked down inside the no-charge zone. Coming over to provide help defense, Erram rose and swatted away at De Ocampo’s shot but lost his balance after landing on the fallen Rhett.

Erram flipped over, crashed on his back and bounced his head on the playing court, staying prostrate for a few minutes before limping to the bench with assistance from Blackwater utility personnel. An ice pack was placed on his nape as he waited to be brought to the hospital for x-rays.

The Elite went downhill from there.

Despite De Ocampo’s return, the reigning champs weren’t completely without liability, missing rookie forward Troy Rosario, who hurt his left shoulder in the quarters against Rain or Shine. The former National University Bulldog had since re-joined team practice and could suit up in TNT’s game with the Meralco Bolts on Sunday at the Philsports Arena in Pasig.

TNT was also without hot-tempered import Ivan Johnson, who was suspended one game and fined P50,000 by PBA commissioner Chito Narvasa for his involvement more than a week ago in a tune-up game altercation with Blackwater’s Erram and backup center Frank Golla, who got punched in the face.

His absence was ably filled, however. Jayson Castro led TNT with 22 points, draining a top-of-the-key 3-pointer with 53 seconds remaining to push the Texters’ advantage up to 106-102. Ryan Reyes and rookie Moala Tautuaa each added 16 points.

Carlo Lastimosa unloaded a career-high 39 points, 14 coming in the fourth quarter where the Elite cut a 14-point deficit to 103-102 on free throws by Rhett with 1:11 remaining. Castro came through in the clutch for TNT, however, and Blackwater’s ball-handlers twice passed up shooter Reil Cervantes on open-look situations in the closing minutes when the game hang in the balance.

The output was the highest by a local player in the opening day of an import-laced conference since the 43 points of Allan Caidic with Presto in the 1992 First Conference.

TROPANG TNT 108 – Castro 22, De Ocampo 20, Reyes R.16, Tautuaa 16, Williams 9, Rosser 8, Fonacier 7, Carey 6, Reyes J. 4, Ababou 0, Aban 0, Nuyles 0.

BLACKWATER 102 – Lastimosa 39, Rhett 16, Cervantes 15, Cortez 14, Dela Cruz 11, Reyes 3, Gamalinda 2, Golla 2, Bulawan 0, Canada 0, Erram 0, Tiongson 0.

Quarters: 29-26; 52-44; 83-72; 108-102.