James Yap’s days as a sixth man are over. And so is the Hotshots’ image as a falling star.
Ditching the experiment of having the two-time MVP come off the bench in its first three games – all losses – Star ended a nightmarish start as Yap dazzled in his new role in a 122-103 rout of the Blackwater Elite yesterday in the Oppo-PBA Commissioner’s Cup at the Smart Araneta Coliseum.
Yap had 13 of his 15 points in the first quarter where he buried three 3-point shots as the Hotshots took command early and never wavered against a dangerous team that had swept the door in the past season as an expansion ballclub but has won two of its previous three games this conference.
Denzel Bowles led Star with 28 points, punctuating his electrifying offense with half a dozen thunderous dunks courtesy of lob passes from Mark Barroca and Justine Melton. Allein Maliksi assumed his former post as the team’s resident sixth man and reveled in the job with 23 points, counting three 3-pointers.
“I think everybody clicked today,” said Star coach Jason Webb, who finally nailed his first pro victory since stepping into the position left vacant by the multi-titled Tim Cone when he moved over to Barangay Ginebra San Miguel during the off-season.
“We’re just relieved that we finally got it,” Webb said. “It was very frustrating for us because we thought we had a pretty good season. Then we had a stretch of games [that we lost].”
All the pent-up emotions and relentless media speculations on what ailed the team appeared to build up to a breaking point that exploded against the Elite,rendering them helpless when the Hotshots roared to a 28-point margin without hardly trying.
Mixing hard-nosed defense and freewheeling show time stuff, combining broken play baskets with precision clutch shots, Star made it insurmountable for the Elite after Bowles threw down a vicious slam halfway in the fourth quarter to make it 109-81.
With only a token resistance from bewildered Blackwater, the Hotshots effortlessly threaded passes through the porous defense, with Melton issuing six assists, Bowles and even Marc Pingris dishing off five, and Barroca four.
Overall, Star had 30 to the Elite’s 18 in setting-up department.
MJ Rhett had 30 points and 21 rebounds for Blackwater and Carlo Lastimosa added 20.
But Star connected on 12 triples against the Elite’s five, with shooter Reil Cervantes, the hot hand for the two-season ballclub in its first three games, taking just five shots.
Star led 17-4 and never looked back, with Blackwater closing in at four but no further.
Meanwhile, PBA marketing head Rhose Montreal tendered her resignation yesterday effective immediately.
STAR 122 – Bowles 28, Maliksi 23, Yap 15, Barroca 10, Simon 10, Melton 8, Sangalang 8, Pascual 7, Pingris 7, Cruz 4, Torres 2.
BLACKWATER 103 – Rhett 30, Lastimosa 20, Erram 13, Cervantes 11, Dela Cruz 9, Gamalinda 5, Reyes 5, Agovida 4, Cortez 4, Bulawan 2, Golla 0, Vosotros 0.
Quarters: 28-22; 58-41; 92-75; 122-103